Muslims urged to boycott rubella vaccine

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Islamic leaders in Leicester have urged Muslims not to allow their children to be vaccinated against measles and rubella because the vaccine is derived from an aborted foetus. The boycott could spread around the country.

Massod Shadjareh, chairman of the human rights committee of the Muslim parliament, said yesterday: 'Muslims are very upset about this. We've had a lot of inquiries from them asking us for guidance. I will spend this weekend talking to religious scholars and leaders about their concerns so we can give some guidance,' he said.

The Muslim moves follow the decision of two leading Catholic public schools not to use the vaccine on the grounds that it is immoral and unnecessary for boys. The Headmaster of one of the schools, Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire, has defended his action as 'legitimate and logical'.

In a letter to Dr Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, Fr Leo Chamberlain accused the Government of failing to disclose the information necessary for a 'moral decision' about the vaccine.

'Those who respect life have thus been put into a position in which they are invited to agree to this measles-rubella vaccine or be blamed for the consequences of rubella. We do not accept this.'

The Government is aiming to vaccinate up to 7 million children under 16 with a combined measles-rubella vaccination in a new campaign which starts next week. This follows warnings about a measles epidemic which threatens to hit Britain early next year. Public health officials decided to include rubella (German measles) because of the threat it poses to pregnant women who contract the virus. Their babies may be born severely handicapped.

Earlier this month The Universe, a Catholic weekly newspaper, revealed that the rubella portion of the injection was derived from the lung tissue of a male foetus aborted in 1966. The cells were grown into a 'cell line' known as MRC5 which was used to develop the rubella vaccine and some other vaccines.

The report prompted a fierce debate in the Catholic press and concerned parents contacted staff at Ampleforth who decided to ban the vaccine and offer a measles-only injection to pupils. Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, run by the Jesuits, took similar action this week although the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales had ruled that 'consenting (to the injection) does not condone abortion'.

Dr Calman wrote to Ampleforth earlier this week expressing his 'deep concern' at the headmster's decision, and pointing out that outbreaks of rubella among older boys led to 23 women becoming infected last year, and 'around half' of them had abortions.

Although Ampleforth accepts that girls should be vaccinated against rubella, the Brothers there argue that a high resistance in the population to the virus allows the 'freedom to go with conscience' on the issue.