Southeast Asia’s largest economy has secured priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine bulk developed by China's Sinovac Biotech through a deal with state-owned pharmaceuticals Bio Farma.
A vaccine bulk is an aqueous form of the purified antigens, or vaccine, provided in a large container from which the individual vials are filled.
Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi announced the deal on Thursday evening at a virtual press conference in Sanya in China's south, where Bio Farma signed two agreements on the vaccine cooperation with Sinovac.
Under the first agreement, Sinovac is to start shipping the coronavirus vaccine to Indonesia in November.
“First is the preliminary agreement [on] the purchase and supply of the COVID-19 vaccine [bulk], which is an agreed commitment to supply 40 million doses from November 2020 to March 2021,” Retno said.
The second agreement is a memorandum of understanding that extends the cooperation until the end of 2021, under which Sinovac commits to providing priority access to Bio Farma to purchase more vaccine bulk.
Sinovac last week launched the final stage of the phase three clinical trial for the CoronaVac vaccine it is developing with Bio Farma, with the final stage involving 1,620 patient volunteers in Bandung, West Java.
The six-month clinical trial of the vaccine in Indonesia comes as the country continues to struggle with rising infection, recording 2,266 new cases on Thursday to bring the cumulative nationwide tally to 147,211 confirmed cases.
State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir accompanied Retno to the meeting with Chinese officials in the resort city on Hainan Island, the Chinese outpost in the South China Sea. The two ministers also met with representatives from China Railway during the overseas visit, Retno's first in six months.
Earlier this month, Erick claimed that Bio Farma would be ready to produce 250 million doses of CoronaVac per year once the trials had been completed by the year-end.
Retno is the first foreign minister China has received amid its ongoing COVID-19 response efforts on the mainland. According to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry, her reception “shows that China and Indonesia both attach high importance to bilateral relations”.
The Indonesian delegation also explored potential collaboration opportunities with other Chinese drug manufacturers, including Sinopharm. The state-owned Chinese pharmaceuticals has said that its candidate vaccine may cost no more than 1,000 yuan (US$144.27) for two injections once it had completed its clinical trials and began mass production, reports Reuters.
CanSino Biologics is another Chinese company that Indonesia is considering for possible cooperation. The company has started late-stage clinical trials for its candidate vaccine in a number of countries, while Beijing has already approved its use for the nation's military.
In a meeting with Chinese counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi to follow up a virtual meeting in late July, Retno stressed the importance of an effective, safe, timely and affordable vaccine for COVID-19.
“Indonesia has seen strong commitment from a number of pharmaceutical manufacturers in China to collaborate on the vaccine [development] with Indonesia. We are also seeing the commitment of the Chinese government in supporting this cooperation,” she said.
Meanwhile, Erick said that the visit intended to ensure that any transformation of Indonesia’s health industry through this cooperation would result in a win-win solution.
“This is so Bio Farma won’t just be seen as a tailor [whose job is just to piece together garments], but as a party to an agreement with Sinovac that includes transfer of knowledge and technology,” he said. The minister issued similar remarks to CanSino and Sinopharm as well.
“Hopefully, we can soon rise above COVID-19 in step with the time frame [...] and [achieve] mass immunization of the Indonesian people by early next year,” Erick added.
Retno was quick to add that Indonesia would continue shopping around for initiatives with other countries and that it was already in touch with parties other than China, “so that we can get better results amid the very tight competition".
Indonesia is also developing its own COVID-19 vaccine prototype, dubbed Merah Putih, toward achieving vaccine self-sufficiency.
With nearly 23 million confirmed cases around the world, hundreds of pharmaceutical research institutes are scrambling to come up with a vaccine while dozens of governments are taking aggressive steps to secure any future stockpiles.
The alarming pace at which pharmaceutical firms are fast-tracking vaccine development has prompted the World Health Organization to warn drugmakers that proper vaccine development could take 12 to 18 months.
To further clear the path in supply and distribution, Indonesia and China have also agreed to arrange a "travel corridor" for essential businesses.
“This is the third travel corridor for essential businesses that we have made with other countries, after the United Arab Emirates on July 29 and South Korea on Aug. 17,” said Retno, who is heading to the UAE with Erick after the China visit.
Other bilateral issues discussed during the visit included trade as well as the ongoing investigation over alleged human trafficking of Indonesian crew aboard Chinese fishing vessels. Regional issues included the China-ASEAN dialogue partnership, which will mark 30 years next year.
“Indonesia is confident that the ASEAN-China partnership will stay strong as long as it is always carried out [according to] international law, including when we discuss the South China Sea issue,” Retno said.