ASEAN BUSINESS: VACCINE ROLL-OUT

In Indonesia, vaccine shortages are the main concern

Jakarta

INDONESIA is facing an acute shortage of Covid-19 vaccines as supplies are drying up fast, forcing the government to ration the number of inoculations it can administer in the coming months.

The shortage is largely due to the embargo on exports imposed by Indian supplier Covax-GAVI, said Ministry of Health spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi earlier this week.

She noted that Covax-GAVI was originally scheduled to deliver 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines on March 25, with another 7.8 million doses to follow in April.

These supplies, however, have been delayed and Indonesia currently has just 7.6 million Sinovac vaccines in stock.

Indonesia recorded nearly 6,000 new Covid-19 infections on March 31, taking the overall total to more than 1.51 million. The country has seen almost 41,000 people die from the virus.

South-east Asia's largest economy hopes to distribute 181.5 million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021, in several phases.

To achieve that goal, the government under President Joko Widodo needs to double the vaccination rate from the current 500,000 doses a day to one million.

"At the moment, we are still in the second stage of the programme where we are vaccinating public servants as well as the elderly," Ms Tarmizi said.

Of the 17.3 million public servants (in this stage), just over a quarter of them have received their two jabs. And of the 21.5 million elderly people, only 6.8 per cent have been vaccinated.

The government has also completed the vaccination of almost all - or 97.5 per cent - of the country's 1.4 million medical and health workers. For the general population, the plan is to start vaccinations by early July.

To complicate matters, however, the local production by state-owned Bio Farma of 27 million doses has also been held up. So far, Bio Farma has received materials for 40 million doses of the two-dose Coronavac vaccine from China's Sinovac and is due to reach 140 million by July.

Given the current daily rate of vaccinations of 500,000 doses, the country is expected to run out of vaccines by the end of May if it cannot secure new supplies or accelerate domestic production.

To mitigate the shortfall, Ms Tarmizi said that the government has set up a strategy to lengthen the gap between the first and second doses to ensure that implementation is not disrupted.

Even as Indonesia struggles to secure sufficient supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine, the country's private sector is moving ahead in parallel to vaccinate staff under the so-called "Gotong Royong" scheme where private companies can import supplies on their own.

In a meeting with Mr Joko in February, business owners under the auspices of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) offered to handle the vaccination of their employees along with their dependents if they are allowed to secure and import vaccines.

Kadin has registered 8,300 companies under the programme and aims to purchase 40 million doses for some 20 million recipients.

In an interview with the media, Kadin chairman Rosan Roeslani argued that faster vaccination of the country's workforce is critical to economic recovery as workers in factories and offices will be able to return to normal working hours.

But critics have argued that Kadin's Gotong Royong programme is placing additional burden on an already stretched Ministry of Health, given that the ministry has been tasked with monitoring the programme and Bio Farma has been given the responsibility for distributing Kadin's vaccines.

There is also the larger issue of social inequity if public perception grows that the wealthy have been given preferential access to vaccines, especially if the government's rollout programme is stalled.

Much will depend on how the government and the private sector are able to work together and resolve the vaccine imbroglio for the country's economic and social stability.

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