Indonesia to offer free Covid-19 vaccines to all, President Joko to get it first

President Joko Widodo said he ordered the Finance Minister to reallocate the state budget to provide free vaccines. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo announced on Wednesday (Dec 16) that he will be the first recipient of a Covid-19 vaccine in Indonesia and the vaccination will be available free to all Indonesians.

"I want to emphasise once again that I will become the first one to be vaccinated. This is to build trust and certainty among the public that the vaccines are safe," he said in an address from the presidential palace live-streamed on YouTube.

Mr Joko, 59, also said that after receiving a lot of suggestions and recalculating state finances, he decided the vaccines would be free for Indonesians.

"I've ordered the Finance Minister to prioritise (the vaccination programme) and reallocate (the state budget) to provide free vaccines so there's no reason that the people can't access them," he said.

An online survey by the Health Ministry found out that around 64.8 per cent of participants were keen to receive vaccination once the vaccines are made available to the public, while 27.6 per cent were doubtful about the government's vaccination plan and almost 7.6 per cent rejected it.

Only 35 per cent of those wanting to get the shots were willing to pay for them, while 38 per cent would not want to pay and the rest were undecided.

The survey, involving more than 115,000 participants across the archipelago, was carried out along with the Indonesian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation from Sept 19 to 30 with support from Unicef and the World Health Organisation.

Indonesia, which has the world's fourth largest population, of around 270 million, welcomed the first batch of the Covid-19 vaccines, totalling 1.2 million doses from China's Sinovac Biotech, on Dec 6.

It hopes to begin inoculating its young working population aged 18 to 59, who are considered most mobile because of their occupations.

It has targeted 246 million doses to cover 107 million people, or 67 per cent of the target group, representing nearly 40 per cent of its total population.

Sinovac and Novavax are set to help fulfil 155.5 million doses. Indonesia is in talks with other manufacturers, such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Covax, to source the rest.

A roll-out date will be set after its drug monitoring agency BPOM gives emergency use authorisation, which is expected early next year.

Under its current plan, Indonesians working on the front line in the battle against the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, the police and military personnel, are set to get the shots first.

This strategy is in contrast with that of other countries that have begun providing the vaccines to the elderly and vulnerable first, such as Britain, which began its vaccination programme with a 91-year-old woman last week.

The United States kicked off its vaccination programme this week, in line with the recommendation from its Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to provide vaccines to healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes, followed by people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said earlier that the elderly, those with existing health issues and pregnant women are not put on Indonesia's priority list for the vaccination programme because it does not have the data to guarantee the vaccine's safety for them. The Sinovac shots were tested only on people aged between 18 and 59 years old.

Indonesia has recorded 636,154 Covid-19 cases and 19,248 deaths as of Wednesday, the worst on both counts in South-east Asia.

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