Indonesia is poised to begin its mass COVID-19 inoculation drive starting with a Chinese-made vaccine on Jan. 13, officials said Tuesday, as the archipelago-nation combats Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus caseload.
But the drug first needs to be approved through an emergency-use authorization (EUA) from the country’s drug regulator, a spokesman for the national coronavirus task force said, adding this would hopefully happen soon.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in an event to be televised next week, will be the first person in Indonesia to receive a shot of a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.
“The first injection will be administered to the president on Wednesday [Jan. 13],” in a bid to assure the public that Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine is safe, Budi said.
In the next days, public officials, health workers, and religious leaders would begin to be inoculated nationwide, he added. The vaccine will be free for everyone, the government said last month.
“For Governors, the regional leaders, please make the preparations, select the persons to be vaccinated, as on January 14-15 we will start the vaccination in the regions, especially in the provinces.”
A spokesman for the COVID-19 task force, Wiku Adisasmito, said the president and others would be inoculated only after the Drug and Food Control Agency (BPOM) authorized the vaccine for emergency use.
The agency is awaiting preliminary results of late-stage trials of CoronaVac being conducted in Indonesia, Turkey, and Brazil. Wiku said he hoped BPOM would soon authorize its use.
“Everything will be based on science,” Wiku told reporters. “The president, too, will receive the vaccine when the EUA from BPOM has been obtained.”
Indonesian state-owned pharmaceutical firm Bio Farma said last month that early data indicated that 97 percent of those injected with the Sinovac vaccine developed antibodies.
The government said that elderly people would have to wait to be vaccinated because there was not enough data to determine whether Sinovac’s vaccine is safe for people aged 60 years or older.
For Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, there isn’t nearly enough data to support vaccinations even for younger people. He criticized the government for what he described as its lack of transparency about the vaccine.
“Maybe the efficacy is not that high,” Pandu told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. “All data should be made public. Maybe the emergency-use authorization has already been issued, but based on what data? Has the trial been completed?”
Indonesia’s target is to inoculate close to 182 million people by March, as the world’s fourth most populous country – with 270 million people – reported nearly 800,000 confirmed cases and more than 23,000 virus-related deaths as of Tuesday.
Indonesia so far has received 3 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine.
Sinovac is also scheduled to deliver 45 million doses of the vaccine in bulk later this month, for production by Bio Farma, the government had said.
Jokowi said that more than 700,000 of the 3 million CoronaVac doses had been distributed to Indonesia’s 34 provinces.
Vaccines developed by other companies are expected in the coming months.
In late December, Health Minister Budi said the government had signed deals to procure 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and U.S. vaccine developer Novavax.
A deal with Pfizer for 50 million doses was expected in January, he had said last month.
Meanwhile, early findings showed that Sinovac’s vaccine did not contain pork, which is forbidden by Islam, said Muti Arintawati, executive director of the food and drug control department at the Indonesian Ulema Council, a semi-official authority on Islam.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world.
“Halal certification is still in the works, but so far we have not found any pork content. Hopefully the results will be good,” the news site merdeka.com quoted Muti as saying.
Vaccine-related developments in other countries
Elsewhere, Thailand will begin COVID-19 vaccinations in February, officials said Tuesday, as they announced the acquisition of 37 million more doses, amid a surge that saw the national cumulative caseload double over the last three weeks.
The government said it was acquiring 35 million more vaccine doses from AstraZeneca, and 2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech. In November, the Thai government had approved the purchase of 26 million doses from AstraZeneca.
The Southeast Asian country had been among the least affected by the global pandemic, but the COVID-19 caseload soared to nearly 9,000 as of Tuesday, after an outbreak last month – mostly among migrant workers – at the country’s largest seafood market-complex in Samut Sakhon province, near Bangkok.
In South Asia, Bangladesh has received U.S. $600 million from the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to procure and store COVID-19 vaccines, inoculate people, and contain the virus through measures such as contact tracing, Bangladeshi officials said Tuesday as the government approved the funds.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.