The Asian Voice

Challenges ahead for Indonesia's vaccination roll-out: Jakarta Post contributors

The writers say that public-private partnership should be a policy recommendation in order to bolster domestic production of health equipment, as well as to participate in vaccine distribution and administration.

Healthcare workers receiving a dose of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine at the Istora Senayan Sports Complex in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 4, 2021. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A vaccine shot administered into the shoulder of President Joko Widodo on Jan 13 marked the start of the country's mass Covid-19 inoculation programme.

Targeting 181.5 million Indonesians, or 67 per cent of the total population, the Health Ministry is planning to reach its target in around 15 months.

While the number is massive at a glance, it is relatively small in comparison to India's mass vaccination target.

Starting on Jan 15, India plans to inoculate 300 million citizens in less than half the timeframe (seven months).

By Jan 21, India had managed to inoculate 1.04 million people. Turkey has also shown a similar achievement, inoculating 1.2 million out of the targeted 60 million people within a week since its vaccination programme started on Jan 14.

While the Indonesian programme is certainly ambitious, progress has been slow: As of Feb. 3, only 596,000 out of the targeted 1.5 million health workers had been vaccinated.

India has one of the most ambitious vaccination targets and has proven its capability to swiftly reach 1 million inoculations in just one week.

As to how India was able to achieve this result, we have to look back at its preparations before the arrival of its vaccine supply.

Most of the currently available vaccines need to be stored at temperatures of 2 to 3 deg C, except for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require a storage temperature of minus 70 degrees.

India uses the AstraZeneca vaccine, and so prepared cold chain logistics that allows ease of distribution and storage. It also trained a large number of health workers in vaccine administration, using dummy shots to reduce human error when administering the real vaccine to recipients.

Israel, which had vaccinated 14 per cent of its population by the first week of January, is the leading example of a rapid Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. Israel used its experience from its annual flu vaccination campaigns to swiftly vaccinate the elderly.

In the United States, which has the largest number of Covid-19 cases in the world, President Joe Biden issued an executive order using the Defence Production Act to ramp up production of vaccine components, masks and personal protective equipment.

Vials, syringes and dry ice that are critical to vaccine distribution are the highlights of this order. While these examples may be applied to Indonesia, one thing that must be accounted for is the geographical condition of each nation.

Indonesia is an archipelago country that requires a combination of land, air and water logistics transportation to properly distribute vaccines while maintaining a low enough temperature to preserve them.

The government has stated its support for involving the private sector in inoculating employees.

However, this is on the condition that the vaccine is free of charge. Many nations are also supporting private sector participation in their vaccination programmes.

For instance, Singapore's OCBC Bank has rolled out its Covid-19 vaccination programme for around 10,000 employees.

In a different instance, private clinics in Brazil have acquired vaccines independently, as the government has been slow in presenting a national strategy. This points to the importance of private-sector participation in independent inoculation programmes to accelerate immunity among local communities.

Nevertheless, there are also countries that have chosen to centralise their vaccination efforts.

The role of the private sector must not stop at administering vaccines to employees. Indonesia and many other countries are also pushing domestic pharmaceutical companies to produce their own vaccines.

Public-private partnership should be another policy recommendation to bolster domestic production of health equipment, as well as to participate in vaccine distribution and administration.

Social acceptance of vaccine products is one of the major obstacles of a mass vaccination programme. Indonesia faces the same problems of vaccine hoaxes and misinformation spreading among people on social media.

A survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting from Dec 16 to 19 last year found that the vaccine acceptance rate among 1,202 respondents had dropped from 66 per cent in early December to 56 per cent.

This shows that the government should increase public trust by disclosing any information on the vaccines while instructing the media not to mislead citizens by cherry-picking information. It seems that Indonesia must also reach out to community and religious leaders to encourage vaccination down to the grassroots level.

In terms of vaccine availability, Indonesia must move swiftly by securing vaccine supplies and inoculating its targeted population. Building momentum in 2021 could be the key towards higher economy growth.

As our projection suggests, Indonesia faces three possible growth scenarios in 2021, ranging from 3.8 per cent (pessimistic), 4.4 per cent (moderate) and 6.2 per cent (optimistic).

These seemingly high scenarios are very much in line with those given by international agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund (4.8 to 6 per cent), the World Bank (4.4 per cent) and Fitch Ratings (6.6 per cent).

One thing for sure, these scenarios hinge on the mass vaccination programme, since the economy lost its steam in 2020 due to Covid-19, not because of overheating.

It is very different from previous periods of recessions or crises that were prolonged due to an overheated economy.

Failure to deliver the mass vaccination programme in a timely manner will only lead to hysteresis, the very condition that will prevent the economy from reaching average equilibrium growth of the past.

That said, the future course of the economy might be entangled in a prolonged Covid-19 crisis that will very much compromise the government's goal to avoid the middle-income trap.

Alexander Yahya Datuk is CEO of economic policy think-tank Sandinomics. Fithra Faisal Hastiadi is CSO of Sandinomics and executive director of public policy think-tank Next Policy. Muhammad Raihan Ramadhan is a Next Policy research associate. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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