Indonesia begins inoculation with AstraZeneca vaccine after delay over blood clot concerns

The Indonesian government had decided to postpone use of the AstraZeneca vaccine pending review by the World Health Organisation.
The Indonesian government had decided to postpone use of the AstraZeneca vaccine pending review by the World Health Organisation.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia on Monday (March 22) began inoculating its citizens with a Covid-19 vaccine made by British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, starting from its tourism hot spot Bali and neighbouring East Java province, following a delay over blood clot concerns.

The country's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) said last Friday that the vaccine was safe to use.

The top Muslim clerical body, Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), had also issued an edict recommending its use and said it could be administered for emergency use despite being haram, or forbidden in Islam. MUI said the vaccine was processed with pork-derived trypsin, but AstraZeneca on Sunday refuted the claim.

Indonesia on March 8 received 1.11 million ready-to-use doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, out of the 11.7 million doses it will receive in stages till May under the global vaccine-sharing Covax facility.

However, the government had decided to postpone its use pending review by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over blood clot concerns.

AstraZeneca on Monday said its vaccine is 80 per cent effective at preventing the disease in the elderly and does not increase the risk of blood clots, following its United States phase three efficiency trials, AFP reported.

It was 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in the overall population and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation, it said.

Several countries had advised against administering the jab to older people due to a lack of data among elderly participants in previous trials. Earlier this month, several countries also paused use of the AstraZeneca shot over fears it may cause blood clots, AFP said.

The European Medicines Agency and the WHO have said the benefits outweighed the risks, following investigations into reports of blood clots.

In Indonesia, Mr I Wayan Widia, head of disease prevention and control division at the Bali health agency, said the inoculation with the AstraZeneca vaccine was carried out on Monday in public facilities and health clinics in three tourism destinations across the island - Sanur, Nusa Dua and Ubud.

"There will be some 170,000 to be inoculated in these areas, covering the general public and tourism business players," he told The Straits Times, adding the target was to finish in June.

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno has said that the government is preparing for the so-called Covid-free corridor in order to reopen Indonesia's key tourism destinations, including Bali, whose tourism-reliant economy has been badly hit by the pandemic.

East Java health agency chief, Dr Herlin Ferliana, told ST that the inoculation with the AstraZeneca vaccine kicked off after as many as 45,000 vials containing 450,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the province on Sunday.

"It began to be used today (Monday) in Sidoarjo and Jombang regencies," she told ST.

President Joko Widodo on Monday observed the vaccination in Sidoarjo and said that he had a meeting with clerics to discuss the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"They expressed East Java's readiness to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine and it will be used soon in Islamic boarding schools across East Java," he said. "I think we need to appreciate this."

Indonesia, which has struggled with South-east Asia's worst Covid-19 outbreak, kicked off its mass vaccination drive in mid-January with a goal to inoculate 181.5 million people, or around two-thirds of its population, to achieve herd immunity in 15 months.

Indonesia has given the vaccine to 5.57 million people as at Monday.

The nation has also reported 39,711 deaths and 1.46 million infections.

Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry's Covid-19 vaccination spokesman, said the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine started last Saturday, with East Java and Bali being among the first destinations.

Other provinces, including the Riau Islands, North Sulawesi and Maluku, were also set to receive the vaccine.

There have been concerns over the expiration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is due to expire at the end of May. However, Dr Nadia dismissed them.

She said: "The amount (of the vaccine) has been counted and it is distributed as targeted."