Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Indonesia’s vaccine diplomacy is reaping rewards. Nearly a year into the COVID-19 outbreak, and despite a very clumsy start to the government’s pandemic response, the country has secured commitments from various foreign partners for the delivery of a future stockpile of more than 300 million doses of vaccine candidates.
More deals are likely to be struck, but in theory, Indonesia will have secured vaccine access to a majority of its 274 million population – provided that the resulting medical products are both safe and effective.
A great deal of effort has been expended to reach these goals: Three Cabinet ministers have been sent abroad to shop around in an effort to save millions of Indonesian lives and an economy on the brink of recession.
With 215 or so countries around the world competing for early access to a possible cure to the deadly coronavirus disease, the Indonesian public will see that the government’s efforts have paid off, and that any funds allocated to these efforts is money well spent.
The government has also thought through its priorities for vaccine distribution; the first wave of incoming vaccines is meant to be given to the medical practitioners on the frontline who have risked their lives treating others.
And although there is still a sizable amount of vaccines allocated for our wealthy politicians, at least we will not have to contend much with the problem of anti-vaxxers. It is also very likely that our religious leaders will make sure that all the eventual vaccines are halal, regardless of whether they are manufactured by China, the United Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.
As a businessman, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also ought to be proud of himself for netting these wins before the prices shoot through the roof.
So if there was ever anything for the state to prove, then it is the fact that Indonesian diplomacy is very useful in securing urgent national interests.
Never mind the fact that the vaccine candidates themselves are still pretty much a gamble, and that some partners – like AstraZeneca – are treading carefully with their product development after experiencing some hiccups.
On the other hand, the government cannot be faulted for taking tentative action when inaction would prove just as much if not more of a risk for the nation’s well-being, especially when nearly 45 million people still believe they will not be infected by COVID-19, based on a state survey last month.
But vaccine diplomacy should only account for one of the many efforts that the government must invest in before it can bring the nation out of the woods. For starters, evenly accessible and science-based education should prevent people from losing sight of what is fact and what is fiction.
More importantly, what needs to be improved upon right now is an inward-looking diplomacy of sorts – that is, to persuade the general public to participate in the fight against COVID-19 by complying with health protocols, at a minimum.