Indonesia may allow private sector to buy and distribute Covid-19 vaccines

A medical officer is injected with a Covid-19 vaccine by a nurse at RSUD hospital in Bogor, on Jan 14, 2021.
A medical officer is injected with a Covid-19 vaccine by a nurse at RSUD hospital in Bogor, on Jan 14, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia may allow companies to procure their own Covid-19 vaccines, the country's health minister said on Thursday (Jan 14), as an influential business chamber called for members to be able to inoculate staff or sell vaccines to the public.

The South-east Asian country launched a mass immunisation campaign targeting more than 180 million people this week to help tackle one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia.

Medical and security personnel are first in line for the vaccine, but Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told Parliament that companies may be allowed to procure vaccines and vaccinate their staff, and thereby reduce the burden on the state.

"It shouldn't start now, but later, after the government has provided mandatory vaccines for health and public workers," he said, noting no final decision had been made and that the authorities wanted to avoid being seen as prioritising the rich.

Indonesia currently buys and distributes vaccines for free at an estimated cost of about US$5.3 billion (S$7 billion).

The head of Indonesia's business chamber said it had requested that some companies be allowed to import approved vaccines or buy government supplies to immunise staff or for sale.

"It's like going to the Disneyland... If you want to go faster, there's a priority pass, but you must pay more," Mr Rosan Roeslani said, adding that businesses had already established links with vaccine producers such as Russia's Sputnik V as well as others approved by the World Health Organisation.

He denied it was a privilege for the rich since the cost per injection could be below the current price for a private Covid-19 swab test.

Mr Jahja Setiaatmadja, chief executive of one of Indonesia's biggest lenders, Bank Central Asia, said that if the plan were approved, the bank would like to procure vaccines for staff.

Ms Marsha Dyas, a 30-year-old Jakarta resident, also welcomed the idea of being able to buy a specific vaccine from a provider.

But Mr Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, warned a "private vaccination programme will create the risk that the poorest and most vulnerable in the outer islands will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines".