TheJakartaPost

Please Update your browser

Your browser is out of date, and may not be compatible with our website. A list of the most popular web browsers can be found below.
Just click on the icons to get to the download page.

Jakarta Post

COVID-19 vaccine: How soon is now?

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, December 21, 2020   /   03:29 pm
COVID-19 vaccine: How soon is now? President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo surveys state-owned enterprises's readiness and its facilities to produce a vaccine on his working visit to Bandung on Aug. 11. PT Bio Farma is able to produce a COVID-19 vaccine with a capacity of 100 million vaccines. (Biro Pers Sekretariat Presiden/Kris)

Almost nine months into the pandemic, Indonesia finally welcomed the first consignment of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, on Dec. 6.

The first batch contains 1.2 million doses of the vaccine. It’s clearly not the cure-all solution for a country with a population of 270 million people. Nevertheless, the arrival of the first batch marks an important step in the country’s efforts to develop the COVID-19 vaccine.

Regardless of the yet uneven supply of vaccines, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo hopes the national COVID-19 vaccination program will begin in January 2021.

“Insya Allah [God willing], we will start the shots in January. In our prediction, we may return to normal next year,” said Jokowi while handing out aid at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java on Friday, as reported by kompas.id.

He further said the vaccination program aimed to reach 70 percent of the Indonesian population – or around 182 million people. The vaccination of that proportion of the population would, it is believed, ensure herd immunity.

Road to vaccination drive

In total, Indonesia has spent Rp 637.3 billion (US$45 million) to procure a coronavirus vaccine from China as the government prepares for a mass vaccination program.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that the Health Ministry had spent the money to procure 3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., as well as 100,000 doses from CanSino Biologics.

“The [vaccine] procurement will take years to complete, from 2020 to 2021 and 2022,” she said earlier this month.

In the meantime, state-owned pharmaceutical holding company PT Bio Farma has been working to develop the Sinovac Biotech vaccine. As of August, the potential COVID-19 vaccine reportedly has entered phase three clinical trials

The company’s corporate secretary, Bambang Heriyanto, said that, as of Oct. 16, 1,620 volunteers had received the first injection of the potential COVID-19 vaccine, 1,074 volunteers had received the second injection and 671 volunteers had undergone blood tests after receiving the second injection.

Amid the progress, the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) said it would not authorize the emergency use of a COVID-19 candidate vaccine in December because of a lack of data on its effectiveness. 

In a recent development, the BPOM said it was expecting interim results in January next year. BPOM head Penny Kusumastuti Lukito said on Thursday that the agency was currently observing Sinovac's CoronaVax vaccine.

She explained that the observation period usually took one, three and six months, hence the emergency use authorization could not be released soon. However, she said Sinovac’s vaccine met the quality standards for producing medicines.

“There are no critical side effects,” she added.

Moreover, the government also seeks to cooperate with other producers, including Genexine Inc. of South Korea and the Bill Gates-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

On Oct. 7, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signed Presidential Regulation No. 99/2020 on vaccine procurement and vaccination to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read also: Explainer: When will a coronavirus vaccine be ready?

Who can get the vaccine?  

Jokowi has announced that the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccination drive will be free of charge, in a decision that comes after much criticism over assertions that the government would only fund inoculation for a third of the population targeted in the program.

"After receiving much input from the public and recalculating the financial state of the country, I would like to inform you that COVID-19 vaccines for the people will be free. Once again, it will be free of charge," he said in an official video published on Wednesday, adding that he would be the first Indonesian to get a vaccine shot.

Jokowi reminded the public that the vaccination program would take some time because of the country’s large population. He said the program would be carried out in stages, beginning with health workers and Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police personnel before reaching the general public. 

The President reasserted that any future vaccine would be approved by the BPOM and would be declared halal by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Vaccination, he said, would be free for all Indonesians.

Walk on the wild side

Indonesia has been looking to fast-track the local development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In April, the government appointed the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology to spearhead the vaccine development through a consortium that includes the Health Ministry’s Research and Development Agency (Balitbangkes), Bio Farma and several universities.

The institute had been given a time frame of just 12 months starting in April, said Eijkman director Amin Soebandrio.

As of October, progress on the development of Indonesia’s COVID-19 vaccine, to be named Merah Putih after Indonesia's red and white flag, has reached 55 percent.

"It is hoped that preclinical animal testing can be carried out next month, and, if everything runs smoothly, we can finish development of the vaccine by year end, and early next year, the vaccine concentrate can be submitted to Bio Farma," Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology head Amin Soebandrio said on Oct. 14 as quoted by tribunnews.com.

"Bio Farma will later formulate the candidate vaccine concentrate so that it can be prepared for clinical trials in humans." 

He explained that the Eijkman Molecular Institute also used the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 that spread in Indonesia as the basis for the genetic information of the Merah Putih vaccine. (jes)

Editor’s note: This article is part of a public campaign by the COVID-19 task force to raise people’s awareness about the pandemic.