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Make vegetarian and vegan alternatives to vaccines, charity urges

There should be vegetarian and vegan alternatives to medicines such as vaccines, a charity has said.

The Vegetarian Society said that vegetarian and vegan version of medicines and flu vaccines should be made available to patients to ensure “everyone has the best chance of staying healthy and feeling good about it”.

Different flu vaccines contain various animal product derivatives, from being grown on eggs to the inclusion of porcine gelatine as an ingredient.

The charity also emphasised the fact that people should not put themselves at risk and take the medicines and vaccines they need.

Public Health England (PHE) head of flu Dr Richard Pebody said that porcine gelatine, which is used in a range of many essential medicines, “helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable so that the vaccine provides the best protection against flu”.

He told our sister publication The Pharmacist on 30 October: “Some faith groups accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products but the decision is one for parents alone.

“We strongly recommend that anyone whose child is offered immunisation with this nasal spray accepts this opportunity to give their child this protection.”

According to PHE, the vaccines including porcine gelatine are the following:

  • The nasal spray flu vaccine Fluenz Tetra offered to children aged between two and 10
  • The vaccine Zostavax, which protects older adults against shingles
  • The vaccine MMR VaxPro, which is used to against measles, mumps and rubella.

The Vegetarian Society said that all the flu vaccines used this year were grown on eggs. It added that the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV) for the over-65s contains squalene, which is derived from fish.

The charity argued that in light of increasing demand for vegetarian and vegan products, it is ‘disappointing that so many medicines and vaccines still use animal ingredients in their formulation”.

Chief executive Lynne Elliot said: “Many people will be conflicted about the idea of having to take non-vegetarian medicines, and some will find it upsetting.

‘However, people should not put themselves at risk and should take medicines and vaccines they need, even if there are no vegetarian alternatives. To ensure, everyone has the best chance of staying healthy, vegetarian and vegan versions of all medicines and vaccines are needed.”

Manufacturers use porcine gelatine in vaccines as a stabiliser to ensure they remain safe and effective during storage, according to PHE.

As it takes years of laboratory testing and clinical studies before a vaccine is considered safe and effective, using a different stabiliser would result in additional work and time to guaranty that the safety and effectiveness of the product are not compromised, it said.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication The Pharmacist.

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