The Arrival of CoronaVac in Indonesia Raises Hopes

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NUSADAILY.COM -JAKARTA- A long-awaited vaccine against COVID-19 finally arrived in Jakarta on December 6, 2020, and was immediately taken to the headquarters of state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma in Bandung, West Java, where it is now being kept under a tight military and police guard.

Indonesia received 1.2 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine from Beijing-based biopharma company Sinovac Biotech Ltd, and another 1.8 million doses are scheduled to arrive by January, 2021.

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In addition to the finished vaccine, Indonesia will receive raw materials in bulk for producing 15 million doses of the vaccine in December this year and 30 million doses in January, 2021, which will have to be further processed by PT Bio Farma.

Bio Farma conducted the Phase 3 clinical trials of Sinovac’s vaccine, in close cooperation with the University of Pandjajaran in Bandung, and the results have been encouraging.

Health Minister Terawan Putranto noted that the delivery of the vaccine was the first phase of procurement of three million doses of the inactivated SARS CoV-2 vaccine candidate.

The Health Ministry has ensured that the refrigerated transport vehicles, provided by Bio Farma for monitoring and maintaining the vaccine’s temperature, are in good condition.

The authority has prepared a storage warehouse and chalked out the cold chain management for 1.2 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine before they can be distributed to health offices nationwide.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Airlangga Hartarto, who is also serving as chairman of the Committee for COVID-19 Response and National Economic Recovery (KPC-PEN), said that the government will provide the vaccines under two schemes: government-paid and self-paid vaccination schemes.

“Detailed regulation on the two schemes will be issued within the next one or two weeks,” Hartarto stated.

The Joko Widodo administration has been eager to begin mass vaccinations by the third week of December, and immunization simulations have been carried out in several locations.

Emergency-Use Authorization (EUA) from BPOM

The government, however, will have to wait for emergency-use authorization (EUA) from Indonesia’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) to commence the first phase of the immunization program.

The BPOM revealed recently that it is still waiting for the results of the Phase 3 clinical trials of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil as it mulls granting the emergency-use authorization.

The agency will collate research data from the Phase 3 clinical trials for the Chinese vaccine candidate in Brazil and Indonesia to determine its safety, efficacy, and immunogenicity, BPOM head Penny K. Lukito stated.

Despite the COVID-19 vaccine already being available in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has urged continued public discipline in applying the 3M health protocols of wearing face masks, maintaining a safe distance, and washing hands with soap.

He also emphasized that before vaccinating the public, all procedures must be followed appropriately to ensure public health and safety as well as vaccine effectiveness.

Indonesia needs 350 million vaccine doses since each citizen would need to be administered two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Indonesian scientists are also developing an indigenous COVID-19 vaccine called White and Red. Named after the national flag, the vaccine is expected to be ready by late next year.

With the nation racing against time to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the government has made efforts to secure COVID-19 vaccine candidates through bilateral and multilateral cooperation over the last several months.

Indonesia has established cooperation with several countries, including China, South Korea, the UK, and the UAE, for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. However, it has decided to only procure vaccines recommended by the WHO.

Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy has made it easy for the country to negotiate with other nations on vaccine procurement.

WHO-Initiated Global Facility of COVAX

The country is also eyeing the WHO-initiated global facility of COVAX for procuring COVID-19 vaccines next year, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi.

Through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, COVAX, which was co-initiated by the WHO, the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Indonesia could secure 3 to 20 percent of the vaccine supply needed for the country’s total population, Marsudi remarked.

“One of the requirements is the vaccine request form to the COVAX Facility. The Ministry of Health has just sent it today, December 7, 2020, to meet its deadline,” Marsudi stated, hoping that the multilateral vaccine would arrive in Indonesia by 2021.

Chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Bambang Soesatyo, has voiced complete support for and lauded the government’s efforts in lobbying several pharmaceutical firms across the world to meet the country’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“The government’s success to receive 270 million doses of vaccines from several countries to meet domestic needs is worthy of praise. However, with the Indonesian population of 268.5 million of which 70 percent must be vaccinated, the real minimum requirement for the COVID-19 vaccine will be 350 million doses,” he stated.

It would not be easy to meet the real minimum requirement for COVID-19 vaccines since all countries must compete with one another to get the much sought-after medical product, he pointed out.

“With the global population of 7.8 billion, the world needs more than 15 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, while the global production capacity is projected to reach 8.4 billion doses,” he stated.

Nearly three billion doses of the total production capacity have been ordered by developed nations, so the Indonesian government must strive to obtain additional vaccines to meet its target, Soesatyo stressed.

Meanwhile, the 1.2-million vaccine doses will be prioritized for groups that are most at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially healthcare workers, said Dr. Masdalina Pane from the Indonesian Epidemiologists Association (PAEI).

As of December 5, 2020, a total of 342 medical workers comprising 192 doctors, 14 dentists, and 136 nurses have died of COVID-19 after getting infected in the course of their duties, according to the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI).

The next group that would get priority in vaccination will be people who provide services to the community, and then people with high mobility, Dr. Pane informed.

Bio Farma president director Honesti Basyir also confirmed recently that healthcare workers would be accorded priority during the initial stage of the COVID-19 vaccination program.

Basyir said he is optimistic that the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers would offer security and protection to those dealing directly with COVID-19 patients.

Halal-Worthiness of the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Meanwhile, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy, has stated that the Halal Product Guarantee Agency (BPJPH) and the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Food and Drug Study Agency (LPPOM MUI) have completed a study on the halal-worthiness of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The MUI will soon issue a fatwa on the halal-worthiness of the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to people in Indonesia. It is currently in the process of drafting the fatwa, he said.

Effendy, a member of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Muslim organization, remarked that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is facing a life-threatening emergency. Thus, if a drug or a vaccine is deemed non-halal, it can still be used in an emergency, in case no halal drug or vaccine is available, he added.

Erick Thohir, State Enterprises Minister and executive chairman of the Committee for COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery (KC-PEN), has revealed a survey has indicated that 66 percent of Indonesian people are willing to join the vaccination program, and only 16 percent are refusing to get vaccinated.

The government will not force Indonesians to get vaccinated, Thohir said at a webinar on December 1, 2020.

In fact, the government is targeting to vaccinate 70 percent of the population, with the assumption that the remaining 30 percent would have already built natural immunity against the virus, he said. (sak/ant)