Indonesian president Jokowi receives Covid-19 jab, starting national vaccination drive

The vaccination at the state palace was broadcast live on the presidential secretariat's YouTube channel. PHOTO: REUTERS/INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

Indonesian President Joko Widodo received his first dose of the China-made Sinovac vaccine on Wednesday (Jan 13), kicking off a mass vaccination drive against the coronavirus to curb surging infections and deaths in the worst hit country in South-east Asia.

The vaccination at the state palace was broadcast live on the presidential secretariat's Youtube channel.

Sharing his experience on Facebook after getting his jab, he said the doctor had asked if had ever tested positive for the Covid-19, or if he had a cold or cough or suffered from kidney and heart diseases.

"All I said was no. Then, my left sleeve was lifted. And the vaccine was injected," he said.

"My fellow countrymen, at 9.42am this morning, I started a big effort as an Indonesian citizen to be free of this pandemic by receiving the Covid-19 vaccine."

"This Covid-19 vaccine is what we have been waiting for for a long time... I hope that the Covid-19 vaccination (programme), which begins today, will run smoothly."

Mr Joko, better known as Jokowi, was the first person to be inoculated to signal confidence to Indonesians that the vaccine was not only safe and effective, but also halal, or permissible for Muslims.

The country's top Islamic body, the Indonesian Ulema Council, on Jan 8 ruled that the vaccine, called CoronaVac and developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, is "pure and halal".

The food and drug monitoring agency, known as BPOM, on Monday also granted the vaccine emergency use approval based on interim data showing it is 65.3 per cent effective, above the World Health Organisation threshold of 50 per cent.

Indonesia is participating in the phase three clinical trials of the vaccine, with 1,620 volunteers in Bandung, West Java.

Indonesia is struggling to contain the outbreak which has overwhelmed the healthcare system, left nearly 10 million people jobless, and dragged the economy into its worst recession in 22 years.

With more than 858,000 cases, including nearly 25,000 deaths to date, the authorities are pinning their hopes on a vaccine to help ride the country out of the health and economic crisis.

Indonesia needs some 426 million vaccine doses for 181.5 million of its 270 million population to achieve herd immunity.

So far, Indonesia has secured 18 million doses of CoronaVac. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

So far, it has secured 18 million doses of the CoronaVac and 50 million doses of vaccines each from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca for delivery later this year.

Mr Joko is expected to meet on Wednesday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Jakarta for two days as part of his five-day tour of South-east Asia.

Besides the president, a number of Cabinet members, religious leaders and influencers would be immunised on Wednesday to build public confidence.

The Health Ministry had announced that the first phase from January to April would prioritise high-risk groups including 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million public workers in all 34 provinces, followed by the general public.

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Rolling out the vaccination programme, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin on Wednesday said: "The participation of all Indonesians will greatly determine the success of this programme. Hopefully, all will... support this programme to build an Indonesia and a world which are healthier and free from Covid-19 pandemic."

The government hopes to have inoculated around 70 per cent of its population to reach herd immunity in just 15 months, or by March next year.

Some health experts are sceptical of the ambitious timeline, with Dr Hermawan Saputra from the Indonesian Public Health Experts Association saying that 3.5 years would be a more realistic target to complete the vaccination programme, according to the Jakarta Post.

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