I have just discovered that the yearly flu vaccine contains a pork product used to stabilize the vaccine. I am Messianic and follow Torah. Is there any other alternative flu vaccine?
Thanks for writing. Regardless of background, everybody is impacted by what they eat. There is an entire industry based on what is called “organic food” in spite of the fact that numerous scientific analyses have concluded that no chemical distinctions can be found between regular (less expensive) produce and the “organic” variety. The very fact that those who believe implicitly in the superiority of “organic” foods may well be deriving some holistic benefit from eating in that fashion is perfectly feasible. (Please see our free eBook, The Holistic You.)
The same goes for those who exert considerable effort to eat only “locally sourced” food. Despite no evidence that more carbon is produced in the aggregate by bulk shipping of food, I’d be hard pressed to insist that choosing to eat under those restrictions has no impact on the consumer, if not on his body, then on this soul.
That this is just as true for those who confine their food intake to the Bible’s rules of kosher eating can hardly be argued. The most important point to bear in mind is that much of kosher regulation in Scripture is somewhat encoded. For instance, many rules such as that prohibiting the consumption of cheese-burgers are decoded from the three time repetition of a verse discussing cooking. (Exodus 23:19, & 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) Clearly, the literal translation of the words does not provide any valuable data; only the decoding of the full Hebrew meaning helps.
You are quite correct; gelatin, mostly derived from pig skin, is used in some, but not all flu vaccines and also in the capsule container of many drugs, even some aspirins. This is an area of kashrut (keeping kosher) whose modern implications have been carefully researched and discussed in detail for over a hundred years. We are going to spare you the complexity and granularity, but for several reasons including the degree of chemical conversion that the gelatin undergoes, there are legitimate halachic opinions to allow consumption of medications containing gelatin. There are even arguments to allow foods like yogurt, marshmallows, and so on that contain gelatin. However, one of the basic tenets of a Torah-observant lifestyle is accepting the authority of a worthy rabbi. Most American rabbis in this category do not allow eating foods made with animal-derived gelatin, but there are some who do. One can’t pick and choose depending on the desired answer, but our point is that these are complex questions and there is room for respectful disagreement. You see, Paul, it is not only a question of chemical analysis but also one of religious coherence and so the Torah-observant in one part of the world might well be bound by slightly different rules from those in another location.
You ask us whether there is an alternative flu vaccine. We have no idea. This question is entirely outside our zone of expertise. We suggest you ask your doctor. However, to the best of our knowledge, we have not heard anyone raise kashrut-based objections to getting the flu vaccine.
In addition to what we have already explained, an injection is different from chewing or even swallowing a medication. Should, for example, someone need a gelatin-based capsule medicine and no alternative is available (for those who do not use gelatin) swallowing it rather than allowing it to dissolve in one’s mouth removes the taste factor, greatly reducing the severity of the matter.
We hope this brief overview is helpful.
Eat healthily for both body and soul,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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