Indonesia to ramp up Covid-19 vaccine drive, aim is for 50 million doses monthly from September

People wait to receive the Sinovac vaccine during a vaccination drive in Sibreh, Aceh province on Aug 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesia has ramped up its national vaccination programme and aims to administer 50 million doses a month from September.

But the wide disparity in distribution across the sprawling archipelago remains a big obstacle.

Up to 57.7 per cent of the population in Jakarta, the capital, for instance, have been fully vaccinated, but only 7.38 per cent in Lampung province, at the southern tip of Sumatra, have received the mandatory two doses, the lowest rate nationwide.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin has encouraged regional leaders to distribute available vaccine stocks across cities and regencies to speed up vaccinations, instead of holding on to supplies for fear of shortages.

He gave the assurance that the country would have sufficient stocks, with around 80 million doses expected to arrive next month. Indonesia is also expecting 19.5 million doses from foreign suppliers to be delivered this week and another 13 million next week.

"We will surely distribute quite a lot this week and next week. We're asking regional administrations to help distribute smoothly to final destinations in cities and regencies," Mr Budi said.

The country administered the first 50 million doses in early July, 25 weeks after the launch of the nationwide vaccine roll-out in mid-January.

Another 50 million doses should be administered by the end of August, just eight weeks from the first target. This will be further ramped up to 50 million next month.

"If it takes four weeks, or one month, for 50 million doses, we will need to offer 1.3 million to 1.4 million doses daily," Mr Budi said.

"If in the next four months we can achieve 50 million doses each month, we will achieve 300 million doses by the end of this year, which is around 70 per cent of our target. If we can hit 300 million by the year end, it's a good target," he added.

The world's fourth most populous nation seeks to inoculate 208.3 million people, or 77.1 per cent of its population, by January next year. It has dispensed 92.8 million doses as at Thursday (Aug 26), according to the Health Ministry.

Those fully vaccinated stood at 33.4 million, representing 16 per cent of the overall targeted population.

Supply issues, however, will have to be resolved if the ambitious targets are to be met.

A number of cities and regions across some provinces, such as Aceh, Bangka Belitung Islands, West Java, East Java and East Nusa Tenggara, have reported little or no vaccine stocks, prompting local authorities to slow down or even halt vaccinations. This is despite the fact that some have reported the most cases of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.

In Aceh, two regencies halted inoculation for a few days last month, and the province's daily average even dropped to its lowest level of 7,000 doses a day, compared with between 10,000 and 15,000 daily.

But the province received more than 70,000 doses this week - a record high - up from between 36,000 and 45,000 in previous weeks.

"Now, we must persuade people to get their jabs again. It's not easy to maintain their enthusiasm," said Mr Iman Murahman, head of disease prevention and control division at Aceh Health Agency.

The acting pharmaceutical and medical equipment director-general at the health ministry, Ms Arianti Anaya, acknowledged that some regions had reported low vaccine stocks in July due to a shortage at the national level, and that what was available was prioritised for Java and Bali islands.

"At present, as the coverage in Java and Bali is already high and the quantity of vaccines arriving is quite big, they will be distributed to all provinces and thereafter to cities and regencies," she said.

Distribution remains key to Indonesia achieving its vaccination target, according to one expert.

"In the next two months, we should be able to administer 50 million doses each month as the vaccine stock is available. It now depends on how to distribute it to the regions," said Dr Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist from Surabaya-based Airlangga University.

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