Islamically Permissible COVID-19 Vaccines Available in the US for 2020-2021 Season

Prepared by Mawlana Mateen A. Khan MD, Dr. Ramzan Judge PharmD, Dr. Samad Tirmizi PharmD, and Mufti Adil Farooki MD.
Updated: December 24, 2020

Summary:

Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are ḥalāl and permissible to take.

(Other vaccines have not been evaluated yet due to lack of information and/or vaccine unavailability.)

Introduction:

In December 2019, the World Health Organization was alerted to an outbreak which would eventually be identified as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19. Caused by a betacoronavirus, COVID-19 most often effects the lower respiratory tract. The virus binds to angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor, which is found in almost all organs of the body especially the lungs, brain, and gut. Therefore, the virus has the potential to affect most of the body. On March 11, 2020, the WHO officially declared it a pandemic as it quickly spread across the globe. As of December 5, 2020, there are over 67 million worldwide cases and over 1.5 million deaths have been attributed to it.[i] In an unprecedented move, countries across the world embarked on an effort to quickly develop drugs and vaccines. This article will briefly discuss the vaccines currently available in the United States including the permissibility or impermissibility of their ingredients in the Sharī`ah. It makes no assessment of the vaccines’ medical benefit or lack thereof. One should consult a qualified and trusted medical personnel to better assess personal benefit.

Discussion:

The first class of vaccine to come to market in the United States are mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech/ Pfizer and Moderna. mRNA vaccines are novel vaccines encapsulating genetic material in lipid nanoparticles. It is thought these particles fuse with the cell membrane of a eukaryote to deliver the mRNA into its cytoplasm. Here, it is translated into the active antigen. Unlike previous vaccines, production of mRNA vaccines do not employ any cell lines or growth medium.[ii]

Figure 1: Drawing of a lipid nanoparticle

Pfizer-BioNtech & Moderna COVID Vaccines

The vaccines developed by Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines named BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 respectively. [iii] The mRNA encodes for the receptor binding domain of the virus’s S1 protein. It is entirely synthetic. There are nine other ingredients (Table 1[iv]). Ingredients 2-5 of each vaccine make up the lipid nanoparticle. Although, these components can be sourced from plant or animal sources, we have assurances from the manufacturers and government agencies that the vaccines do not contain any components of animal origin. [v] The rest of its components are excipients[vi] of ḥalāl origin. Therefore, all ingredients of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID vaccines are ḥalāl, being either non-animal derived synthetic components or excipients.

Table 1: Ingredient list for mRNA vaccines

[i] COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. Accessed 12/7/2020.

[ii] Annette B. Vogel, Isis Kanevsky et al. A prefusion SARS-CoV-2 spike RNA vaccine is highly immunogenic and prevents lung infection in non-human primates. BioRxiv, September 08, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.09.08.280818

Corbett, K.S., Edwards, D.K., Leist, S.R. et al. SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine design enabled by prototype pathogen preparedness. Nature 586, 567–571 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2622-0

[iii] For a better general understanding of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, see: https://biontech.de/covid-19

[iv] https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/clinical-considerations.html. Accessed December 24, 2020.

[v] “The Medicines and Healthcare products Agency can confirm that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any components of animal origin.”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19. Accessed 12/5/2020. Confirmation via email correspondence with MHRA on December 17, 2020.

The vaccine provided in the UK is identical in composition to what is provided in the US. (Verbal confirmation from Pfizer representative on December 4, 2020.)

“Our vaccine is free of animal ingredients. The production of it is synthetic.” (Email correspondence from BioNTech. December 7, 2020.)

Moderna vaccine does not contain animal derivatives. (Verbal confirmations from Moderna MSL(s) on December 23 & 24, 2020.)

“Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine does not contain any preservatives, antibiotics, adjuvants, or human- or animal-derived materials.” (Official written statement from Moderna. December 27, 2020. Also: https://covid-vaccine.canada.ca/info/pdf/moderna-covid-19-vaccine-pm1.pdf. Accessed December 28, 2020.)

[vi] The excipients as listed in Table 1 include salts, buffers, and sugar. The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine contains four salts including table salt. Moderna vaccine uses tromethamine, an ingredient found in commonly used medications. These ingredients are primarily used to balance pH. Additionally, Moderna vaccine includes acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, and its salt.