Indonesia's Covid-19 vaccination drive slows amid depleting supplies

The CoronaVac vaccines are inactivated doses that require 1½ months to culture.
The CoronaVac vaccines are inactivated doses that require 1½ months to culture.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia's accelerated vaccination drive has hit a speed bump as its stock of Covid-19 vaccines ready for use is almost fully utilised, preventing it from meeting the target of one million jabs a day in the past week.

Though the country received more supplies of the CoronaVac vaccine in recent back-to-back shipments, these are inactivated doses that require 1 ½ months to culture and to be put into vials before they can be distributed, a government official told The Straits Times.

An inactivated vaccine consists of virus particles that have been grown in culture and then killed to curb disease-producing capacity.

This is unlike the current stock in Indonesia which consists mainly of ready-to-use vials.

There are currently about 15 million doses left, but many of these would be prioritised for second jabs in August, added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Indonesia, the worst-hit by Covid-19 in Asia, mainly relies on CoronaVac for its national inoculation drive that started in mid-January.

The country successfully administered one million doses a day for at least seven days in July and one day in late June.

But the rate has fallen below a million doses in the past seven days, according to the government data. Only about 700,000 doses were administered on Saturday (July 24).

Those receiving the first shot in July will have to come back for the second shot in August.

Indonesia has secured 480 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines of various brands and almost one-third have been delivered.

Its vaccine situation underlines the imbalance between the rich nations and emerging economies in vaccine access that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly warned against, calling an inequitable distribution of vaccines the biggest threat to ending the pandemic.

"As long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere, trade and travel will continue to be disrupted, and the economic recovery will be further delayed.

"Continued transmission also means more variants that could potentially evade vaccines, as well as prolonged strain on the very health systems and health workers that protect us," the WHO said in a January statement on vaccine equity.

Senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan, tasked by President Joko Widodo to coordinate efforts in Java and Bali to contain the second wave caused by the more transmissible Delta variant - is stepping up efforts to secure vaccine-filled vials to ensure inoculation rates in August would not slow further, ST understands.

Java and Bali account for more than 60 per cent of the total cases in Indonesia. The country has over 3.08 million infections and more than 80,000 deaths.

The government hopes to reach its target of achieving herd immunity by inoculating two-thirds of the 270 million population by the end of this year.

The health ministry has roped in the military and police force to speed up vaccination, amid a slow work pace by many of the regions across Indonesia's 34 provinces.

The ministry has also involved a wide range of civil society groups, school alumni clubs and religious organisations, including the two largest ones - Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah - which have tens of millions of members each.