The Jakarta Post
Indonesia clearly is betting on a vaccine as a quick fix to the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo asked his ministers Monday to prepare a detailed road map on the national COVID-19 vaccination program within two weeks, although it remains uncertain whether an effective and safe vaccine will be available anytime soon.
On Wednesday Jokowi reiterated his guarded optimism that between 170 and 180 million doses of vaccine would be available by the end of the year and mass vaccination could begin. The government will allocate about Rp 22 trillion (US$1.5 billion) for the vaccination program.
Indonesia has gone as far as China and the United Arab Emirates to secure a deal to import millions of doses of vaccine, while forging a cooperation with giant pharma companies from China and South Korea to produce COVID-19 vaccine at home. State pharmaceutical company Bio Farma, for example, will be ready to expand its capacity to 250 million doses per month in the first quarter of next year to produce a vaccine being developed by China’s Sinovac. The candidate vaccine is now entering the final stage of human trials in Bandung, which will run until January next year.
The government’s yearning for a vaccine, however, is risky as there is still a possibility the candidate vaccine will not pass the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM). Even World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned there is no guarantee that any of the COVID-19 candidate vaccines currently in development will work.
According to the World Health Organization, almost 200 vaccines for COVID-19 are currently in clinical and preclinical testing. History shows that vaccine development sometimes fails and sometimes succeeds.
Experts say the journey to a successful vaccine trial still has a long way to go and the process to secure a license will take time. Besides, many still do not know what the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine will be, and how effective the vaccine may be in ending the pandemic.
David Morens, senior adviser to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, describes the vaccine development as a blind trial, which may be successful at the beginning but end in failure.
Many studies have shown that antibodies formed after SARS-CoV-2 infection naturally do not last long and will disappear in 2 to 3 months. However, if a certain vaccine is successful and is used for the national immunization program, then the continuity of the program will depend on an adequate supply of the vaccine.
Vaccination is not the only way to end the pandemic. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks, which were also caused by a coronavirus, stopped without a vaccine.
Prevention remains the best medicine including in the fight against COVID-19. Rather than giving false hope, it would be better for the government to step up the campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum.
Wearing a mask, handwashing and physical distancing are the mantras that have proven effective to keep most of us safe from the virus.