Delta's spread to Indonesia's outer islands spurs vaccine rush

People stand in line waiting to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at the provincial government building in Medan, North Sumatra, on Aug 3, 2021.
People stand in line waiting to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at the provincial government building in Medan, North Sumatra, on Aug 3, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Coronavirus cases are starting to ease in Indonesia's main Java island but are spreading fast in its outer regions, spurring a rush for vaccination amid a limited supply.

Christianto Senda, who lives in the mountainous town of Mollo in East Nusa Tenggara province, made the trip to a local health facility for his second jab, only to find there wasn't enough doses available.

The entrepreneur, who has made almost daily calls to check if new shots have arrived, is now weeks late for his scheduled dose.

Mr Senda is one of millions of Indonesians living in the outer islands fighting for Covid-19 vaccines as infections rise.

Almost half of new daily cases are now found outside of the most populated island of Java, which is home to about 60 per cent of Indonesians and has the largest concentration of wealth.

The nation that already tops the world's daily count of Covid-19 deaths risks a worsening outbreak as the disease spreads to areas with less-equipped healthcare systems and lower vaccination coverage.

"My worry is that people's enthusiasm will turn into apathy," said Mr Senda, who runs a social enterprise program called Lakoat Kujawas. "Many walked for hours or paid for expensive transport to get the vaccine. Maybe once, twice, they will still try. But after a while, people might give up altogether."

The capital Jakarta is starting to require people to show proof of vaccination when leaving their homes, as about 78 per cent of its population have gotten at least the first dose.

In East Kalimantan, where daily infections are catching up to Jakarta's numbers, just 15 per cent have had their first shots, according to the health ministry. That figure is 11 per cent in East Nusa Tenggara, a collection of islands located to the east of Bali.

Local media reported stops-and-starts in East and South Kalimantan's inoculation due to a lack of supply, while hundreds of people tried to break through a steel gate in the North Sumatran city of Medan while screaming for vaccines.

The government faces the tough challenge of chasing a moving goalpost. It has focused on inoculating Java and Bali, as those areas still report the highest number of deaths, and called on local leaders to prioritise giving the limited supply of vaccines for the most vulnerable people, including the elderly and those with comorbidities.

Indonesia's plight is echoed by other developing nations. As countries like Germany and the UK prepare to give booster shots to their already inoculated people, most of the world haven't even received their first dose.

About 8 per cent of Indonesia's 270 million people are fully vaccinated, compared with half in the US The country expects to get more vaccine shipment this month and the next, with a total of 300 million doses set to arrive through December.

A government survey conducted in July reveals that most Indonesians want to get vaccinated against Covid-19.