JAKARTA : Indonesia will start vaccinating people above 59 on Monday (Feb 8), in the latest effort to curb rising Covid-19 infections that have put tremendous pressure on many hospitals.
The decision is an about-turn from an earlier plan to vaccinate only people aged between 18 and 59 first, two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Straits Times.
Indonesia is relying on the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, for its immunisation programme that started in mid-January, when medical workers were the first to receive the jabs.
Head of Indonesia’s food and drug agency Penny K. Lukito said in a media briefing on Sunday afternoon that the agency has decided to allow the use of CoronaVac on people aged above 59, based on data from the ongoing clinical trial on 600 people aged between 60 and 70 in Brazil.
“Covid-19 related deaths from the elderly group has shown a high figure…which prompts us to turn to the available vaccine, CoronaVac, to also be used for the elderly,” Ms Penny said in a virtual media briefing, stressing, however, that tighter medical screening prior to the shots is needed since older people tend to have more comorbidities.
People aged above 70 may still get vaccines with greater precautions, she added.
Ms Penny also said that the agency has started reviewing safety and efficacy data on vaccines by AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Novavax, and pledged speedy process in the issuing of emergency-use approval once requested.
The Straits Times understands that senior government officials in Indonesia who are outside the 18-59 age bracket – as well as older people in China – have taken the CoronaVac shots.
“On Monday, medical workers above 59 will start to get their vaccine shots. After them, the general public aged 18-59 and above 59s will get theirs concurrently,” one of the sources said.
Indonesia received its first 1.2 million doses of CoronaVac shipment in early December, the second 1.8 million doses in late December, and the third shipment of 15 million doses last month. The first three million are ready-to-use doses, while the 15 million is a bulk shipment with state owned drug maker Bio Farma, which is filling the vials with vaccines here.
AstraZeneca vaccines are expected to arrive in Indonesia this month and Pfizer-BioNTech’s after March at the earliest. Both of these vaccines have shown to be effective in protecting older people in clinical trials.
Indonesia, South-east Asia’s most populous country, has more than 175,000 Covid-19 cases that are active – the number of patients who are currently infected with the virus.
That number surpasses the 150,000 active cases in India but is a significant decline from one million active cases as at Sept 20 last year. Still, many hospitals across many cities in Indonesia are reporting full occupancy of their isolation beds.
The world’s largest archipelago is the hardest-hit by the pandemic in South-east Asia, with 1.59 million infections and more than 31,000 dead from the virus as at Saturday, according to government data.
Indonesia seeks to inoculate 181.5 million people, or two-thirds of its more than 270 million population, in 15 months to achieve herd immunity.
According to an earlier plan, as many as 1.47 million health workers and another 17.4 million public workers will be inoculated by April. This figure would later be revised to reflect the change of plan, which now includes health workers aged above 59 to be vaccinated earlier than initially planned.
Latest data obtained by The Straits shows that in Central Java, the third most populous province, there has been a declining trend on the number of medical workers who contracted Covid-19, following the vaccination drive.
However, more information is needed to establish that the decline is attributable to vaccination, according to a health ministry official.
There were 141 medical workers infected with the virus during the week that ended Jan 30. This compares to 179 and 267, respectively, in the previous two weeks, according to data from the province.
Meanwhile, Indonesian health ministry is also drafting a new regulation that would allow for a pay-your-own inoculation programme (Vaksin Mandiri), slated for completion later this month.
Existing regulation stipulates that the cost of a vaccination programme during a pandemic must be borne by the state coffer.
Indonesian chamber of commerce and industry (Kadid) had earlier lobbied President Joko Widodo to allow companies to provide vaccines for their employees, in an effort to help achieve herd immunity. The government agreed, but with several conditions.
The conditions include: all vaccines must be procured or imported by later-to-be-appointed sole distributor state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma; companies in the labour-intensive industry such as automotive and textile would be given priority in getting the vaccines first; the brand of the vaccines must not be the same as those used in the free vaccine programme.
By : Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja – THE STRAITS TIMES