Indonesia will begin its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme on January 13, with President Joko Widodo set to be given the first jab, made by China’s Sinovac Biotech.
The mass inoculation programme will begin in the capital, Jakarta, Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin announced on Tuesday, while vaccinations in other regions will follow on January 14 and 15.
The announcement came as Indonesia – the world’s most populous country – battles the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia.
Health authorities in the country reported 7,445 new infections and 198 deaths in the past 24 hours, according to Kompas news, taking the total the number of cases and deaths to 779,548 and 23,109, respectively.
The Indonesian government has previously said 1.3 million frontline workers will be among the first to receive the Sinovac vaccines, named CoronaVac.
The country, which is battling the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia, has signed a deal for 125.5 million doses of the CoronaVac shot and has already received a first batch of 3 million doses.
Budi said after health workers are inoculated, regional governors should come forward to be given the vaccine in order to “generate confidence in the community”.
The World Health Organization, in a survey published in August last year, reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated vaccine hesitancy in Indonesia, with 27 percent of respondents saying they were wary of taking a coronavirus vaccine.
Their reasons ranged from fears over safety and efficacy of vaccines to religious beliefs, including concern over the possible use of pork products in the jabs. The consumption of pork is forbidden or “haram” to Muslims, who make up 87 percent of Indonesia’s 273 million people.
The Indonesian food and drug authority, BPOM, meanwhile, is yet to approve the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines. BPOM did not respond to a request for comment, though the agency has previously said it hoped emergency use authorisation would be granted once interim data from Sinova’s clinical trials in Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey was studied.
Sinovac, along with Indonesia’s state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma, is overseeing late-stage clinical trials in the province of West Java.
Early results from CoronaVac late-stage trials showed it was 91.25 percent effective, while researchers in Brazil have said it was more than 50 percent effective, though full results were yet to be released at the company’s request.
Bio Farma has dispatched more than 760,000 doses of Sinovac’s vaccines to 34 Indonesian provinces as of Tuesday.
Indonesia has secured more than 329 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, most notably from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, and AstraZeneca.
Budi, the health minister, has previously said that Indonesia must inoculate 181.5 million people, or roughly 67 percent of the population, to reach herd immunity.
The vaccine will be administered for free across the archipelago, with the rollout expected to take 15 months. After frontline health workers and public servants, the programme will prioritize working age adults over the elderly – an approach that is different to that adopted by most countries that have begun vaccinations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
Some experts say Indonesia’s strategy could slow the spread of the disease, although it may not affect mortality rates.
“Younger working adults are generally more active, more social and travel more so this strategy should decrease community transmission faster than vaccinating older individuals,” Professor Dale Fisher from the National University of Singapore told Reuters news agency.
“Of course older people are more at risk of severe disease and death so vaccinating those has an alternative rationale. I see merit in both strategies.”