Urgent plea to Muslims over vaccine

Birmingham doctor makes call to stamp out vaccine hesitancy during Ramadan.

A prominent Birmingham doctor has made an urgent call for Muslims who are concerned having their COVID-19 vaccine will invalidate their fast during Ramadan to avoid vaccine hesitancy.

Professor Wasim Hanif (pictured), Professor of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Consultant Physician and Clinical Service Lead in diabetes at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, is also a Trustee of the South Asian Health Foundation.

Working with colleagues from the organisation he has published a paper called Ramadan and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy—a call for action, following concerns among the Muslim community that having the vaccine during the Holy period is not allowed.

However, the charity is reassuring people that the vaccine is permissible over the course of the religious festival, which starts on April 12th and requires Muslims to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.

Professor Hanif said: “We’re a vast, multi-cultural society and it’s crucial community leaders and healthcare professionals across the UK understand people’s vaccine-related concerns.

“We need to educate people so they can weigh up any potential side-effects and fasting concerns against the serious risk of illness or even death related to COVID-19, which is particularly prevalent among the South Asian population.”

Professor Kiran Patel, Chief Medical Officer and Consultant Cardiologist at University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust, also a SAHF Trustee, said: “We want Muslim scholars to speak out and advise that the COVID-19 vaccine is permissible during Ramadan and we need the public and healthcare professionals to be made aware of this.”

Fellow SAHF Trustee Dr Sarah Ali, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Royal Free London and Clinical lead for the Barnet Diabetes Integrated service, said: “During previous epidemics, such as Ebola and polio, religious leaders have played a key role in promoting acceptability and education about vaccination programmes among their communities during Ramadan and beyond.

“There’s an urgent need for a global call for action to reduce vaccine hesitancy to ensure we keep up the momentum. We’re urging community leaders to use Friday prayer sermons to promote the acceptance of vaccines, dispelling myths with worshippers.

“It’s vital people understand that vaccinations are the greatest tool to help the world back to normality which will eventually allow the gradual return of celebrating festivals and future Ramadans.”

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, another SAHF Trustee and Professor in Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, said: “Despite all our efforts, we know there are still some people who do not wish to be vaccinated during fasting hours.

“Solutions to this problem could involve extending vaccination times outside of fasting periods and using mosques as vaccination sites which means people can still be inoculated during Ramadan.”

To date, there is little global information surrounding vaccination hesitancy during this Islamic month of fasting. Historically, vaccination programmes have not been rolled out with such urgency.

During the west African Ebola epidemic, a study in Guinea showed a high overall acceptability of vaccination during Ramadan by Muslim scholars (80%), but a significantly lower acceptance in the general Muslim population (40%).

Furthermore, a boycott of the polio vaccination campaign in three states in Nigeria following misinformation was resolved when Nigerian religious leaders received assurance about vaccine safety, subsequently confirming its acceptability to the communities.