Indonesia to start mass vaccination soon

Tom Allard and Stanley Widianto and Gayatri Suroyo
·2-min read

Indonesia has sought emergency authorisation to start a mass vaccination campaign by the end of the year to combat the coronavirus in the archipelago, the Southeast Asian nation's president says.

In an interview with Reuters, President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, said plans were already advanced to distribute the vaccine across the entire country.

If approval is granted by the country's food and drug agency, known by its Indonesian acronym BPOM, it will mean Indonesia - with 270 million people, the world's fourth most populous country - will be among the first in the world to roll out a coronavirus vaccine.

"We expect to start the vaccination process by the end of this year following a series of tests by BPOM," Jokowi said.

Indonesia has struggled to suppress the coronavirus for months but the steady rise in infection rates has plateaued in the past few weeks, according to official figures.

The country has Southeast Asia's largest coronavirus caseload with about 15,000 deaths and 450,000 infections although health experts warn those numbers are likely to be higher due to low testing rates.

"We will put pressure on the cases so they can stay flat and then we will hit it with the vaccines," Jokowi told Reuters at the presidential palace.

On Friday afternoon, after Reuters' interview with Jokowi, Indonesia posted a record daily number of infections at 5444, well above the daily average of fewer than 3500 cases over the past two weeks.

Jokowi added that ensuring the safety of the vaccine was a priority, and that health workers, police and the military would be first in line when the vaccination campaign begins.

At a ministerial roundtable after the Jokowi interview, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said the government expects BPOM approval in the first week of December and for Indonesia to "begin vaccinating" two weeks later.

Vaccines produced by China's Sinovac and Sinopharm are slated to be used in the early stages of the campaign. This year, the companies will provide 18 million vaccines, including 15 million that will be manufactured by Indonesia's state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma.

All up, Indonesia has deals for more than 250 million doses until the end of 2021. This includes 30 million produced by the US company Novavax, co-ordinating minister for the economy, Airlangga Hartarto told Reuters.