By Farzana Mohammed, Learning facilitator at Health Education and Improvement Wales, member of Muslim Doctors Cymru
It’s so important that we all support COVID-19 vaccine uptake in BAME ethnic minority communities over the coming months. With Ramadan starting in April, many individuals from Muslim communities have raised concerns about mixed messages on whether getting the vaccine would break the fast, as well as potential side effects of feeling unwell after being vaccinated and reservations about taking daily pain relief medication. However, it is important to stress to patients that it is okay for them to get their COVID-19 vaccination if they’re offered it during Ramadan this year.
How can I advise patients who are worried about the vaccine?
First and foremost, these vaccines are safe and effective against COVID-19 and do not contain anything to compromise Muslims during Ramadan. They are halal and no pork or any other animal derivatives or aborted foetal products are included in their makeup. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does contain a small amount of ethanol, but this has been deemed negligible, as it is less than the amount found in bread, vinegar or fruit juice, so isn’t enough to cause any noticeable effect.
Those who receive the vaccine can develop common side effects such as tiredness, headaches or tenderness at the injection site, but you can advise patients to take a normal dose of paracetamol before or after the fast to help them feel better if they’re uncomfortable. Symptoms post-vaccine differ from person to person, but if people do feel unwell and are therefore unable to fast, they must make up the missed fast once they are feeling better and before the next Ramadan. This will be an individual decision based on the severity and duration of side effects experienced.
Is it okay for patients to receive the vaccine whilst fasting?
Yes, and it’s vital that those at high risk from the virus aren’t put by off by this during Ramadan. Any delay in getting a vaccine will increase the risk of catching COVID-19, which could make some of us seriously unwell. Recently, the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) said that “taking the COVID-19 vaccines that are licensed in the UK does not invalidate the fast”. Citing the opinion of Islamic Scholars, the association also states that “subcutaneous, subdermal, intramuscular, or intra-articular injections for non-nutritional purposes whilst fasting do not invalidate the fast, regardless of the injected content entering the blood circulation”, highlighting that “individuals should not delay their COVID vaccinations on the account of Ramadan”.
Pharmacists have a huge role to play in spreading the message of vaccines being safe for all and religiously permissible. By effectively communicating with the Muslim community, through providing practical solutions and reassurances to individuals, pharmacy will help to increase vaccine uptake during the month of Ramadan. There are a number of support tools that pharmacy teams can use to support these conversations, for example this one-page summary from the British Islamic association, myth-busting tools from Muslim Doctors Cymru and the RPS guide on COVID-19 vaccinations. We need to reach out to these individuals and get as many people from these communities vaccinated as soon as possible.
Pharmacy has a hugely diverse workforce and more widely, around 3.3% of all NHS workers are from a Muslim background. It is our duty as pharmacists and health professionals to spread these messages within our local communities and support the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines during Ramadan this year.
Please help us by talking to your local communities and supporting vaccine uptake during Ramadan.
Contact Farzana Mohammed email: [email protected] with suggestions to improve vaccine uptake and concerns. She is the pharmacist representative on a group called Muslim Doctors Cymru, who are trying to dispel some of the myths circulating about the Covid-19 vaccinations
The Quran states: “Surely with all hardships there is ease” 94:6. We know that “there is no disease that Allah has created, except that he also has created its cure”. As Muslims, we have a duty to preserve life and getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent illness and loss of life from COVID-19.