Indonesia turns to China to help plug Covid-19 vaccine shortage after AstraZeneca delays

Indonesia aims to reach 181.5 million people within a year in a bid to reach herd immunity. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia is in talks with China on getting as many as 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to plug a gap in deliveries after delays in the arrivals of AstraZeneca shots, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Wednesday (April 7).

He told a parliamentary hearing that Indonesia would receive 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via a bilateral deal this year, instead of the 50 million doses initially agreed. The remaining 30 million doses were due to be shipped by the second quarter of next year, he said.

Mr Budi said the government had "embarked on a discussion with the Chinese government to ask for an additional 90-100 million (doses)".

"We're also asking for vaccines from the US when they're done with their own vaccinations and sell their vaccines overseas," he said. Besides AstraZeneca, Indonesia relies heavily on vaccines produced by China's Sinovac Biotech for coronavirus inoculations, which began in January.

It aims to reach 181.5 million people within a year in a bid to reach herd immunity. Sinovac has supplied about 56 million doses so far. Indonesia was also slated to receive 54 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in phases via the Covax sharing scheme, though Mr Budi said Indian export restrictions would delay shipments this month.

"That's something that we cannot accept and we're negotiating with AstraZeneca. So that's 100 million doses of vaccine whose schedule remains unclear," he said. AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Indonesia has also launched a private vaccination programme to allow companies to buy government-procured vaccines and inoculate staff for free. State-owned company Bio Farma had started negotiations with China's Sinopharm and CanSino, along with the producer of Russia's Sputnik V, for vaccines for the private programme, its chief executive Honesti Basyir told the parliamentary hearing.

The South-east Asian country has been struggling to control one of Asia's worst epidemics, having reported more than 1.54 million coronavirus cases and 42,000 deaths as of Wednesday. Indonesia has administered at least one vaccine shot to more than 9.22 million people.

European and British regulators said on Wednesday they had found possible links between AstraZeneca's vaccine and very rare cases of blood clots, but reaffirmed its importance in protecting people against Covid-19.

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