JAKARTA - Indonesia will start vaccinating people aged 59 and above against Covid-19 from Monday (Feb 8) - earlier than planned - after latest data showed that half of those who died of the coronavirus were the elderly.
The decision to speed up the vaccination for senior residents is based on the greater risk of health deterioration that they face when they are infected, said health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin in an online media briefing on Sunday.
The move was an about-turn from an earlier plan to give jabs to only those aged between 18 and 59 first.
"The elderly account for 10 per cent of the total number of infections, but they account for 50 per cent of the total that died of Covid-19," Mr Budi said.
Some 11,600 medical workers above 59 years will be inoculated first.
Meanwhile, the government has seen early indication that China's Sinovac vaccines, CoronaVac, might have reduced infections among medical workers.
Data provided by two provinces has shown a declining number of medical workers tested positive, following the vaccination programme launched in mid-January.
"We want to do checks and rechecks once more to see if this is consistent with all the provinces that have done an aggressive vaccination on their medical workers," said Mr Budi, replying to a question from The Straits Times during Sunday's briefing.
"Central Java is the province that has done the fastest and most aggressive vaccination on medical workers."
Indonesia has 34 provinces, made up of more than 500 cities and regencies. The capital Jakarta is a special province.
Mr Budi did not name the other province. Data obtained by ST revealed that in Central Java, the third most populous province, 141 medical workers were infected with Covid-19 during the week that ended Jan 30, compared to 179 and 267, respectively, in the previous two weeks.
Indonesia is relying on the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China's biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, for its immunisation programme.
Head of Indonesia's food and drug agency (BPOM) Penny K. Lukito said in a separate media briefing before Mr Budi's that her agency has given the nod for the use of CoronaVac on people aged above 59, based on results from the ongoing clinical trial on 600 people aged between 60 and 70 in Brazil.
Those above 70 years may still get the vaccine shots, with greater health precautions taken, she added.
Indonesia has so far received 18 million doses of CoronaVac shipment since early December.
AstraZeneca vaccines are expected to arrive in Indonesia this month and Pfizer-BioNTech's after March. Both of these vaccines had earlier shown to be effective in protecting older people in clinical trials.
Indonesia has more than 175,000 active Covid-19 cases, surpassing India's 150,000, although there has been a significant decline in India's infections from its peak of one million active cases as at Sept 20 last year.
Still, many hospitals across many cities in Indonesia are reporting full occupancy of their isolation beds.
The country is the hardest-hit by the pandemic in South-east Asia, with 1.16 million infections and more than 31,500 deaths from the virus as at Sunday, according to government data.
Indonesia seeks to inoculate 181.5 million people, or two-thirds of its more than 270 million population, in 15 months to achieve herd immunity.