JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday received the first shot of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine after Indonesia approved it for emergency use and began efforts to vaccine millions of people in the world’s fourth most populated country.
After Widodo, top military, police and medical officials were vaccinated, as well as the secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the clerical body that last week had ruled the vaccine was halal and could be taken by Muslims.
“This vaccine is the instrument we can use to protect us. But more importantly, the vaccine is the instrument to protect our family, our neighbor, Indonesian people and the human civilization,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Wednesday.
“This vaccine is given to achieve herd immunity. All 70% of the world’s people must be vaccinated for that to be achieved. The participation of all Indonesians will greatly determine the success of this program,” he said.
Conditional use of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine is scheduled to be rolled out in the coming months with health care workers, civil servants and other at-risk populations prioritized first. It will be free for all Indonesian citizens.
For Indonesia to vaccinate two-thirds of its population, 181.5 million people, to reach herd immunity, Sadikin said the two-shot vaccine would require almost 427 million doses, including the estimate that 15% may be wasted.
Distribution will not be easy in the vast archipelago where transportation and infrastructure are inadequate in places. Health officials have cited concerns about keeping the vaccine refrigerated at the required 36–46 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its safety and effectiveness.
“We know that the cold-chain distribution is not complete. This is the obstacle,” Sadikin said Tuesday. “The cold-chain facilities are not enough so we are still distributing some of the vaccines. We are worried.”
Indonesia received its first shipment of the Sinovac vaccines on Dec. 6 and locked it in cold storage surrounded by armed guards. Authorities began distributing the vaccines to key locations around the country while awaiting emergency use authorization.
The vaccine was cleared for emergency use based on clinical trial data and after the Indonesian Ulema Council declared the vaccine holy and halal.
Indonesia’s vaccination program is the first large-scale use of the Sinovac vaccine outside of China.
Indonesia has recorded more than 846,000 cases of the virus, including over 24,600 deaths.
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