Indonesian President Joko Widodo received his first dose of the China-made CoronaVac vaccine yesterday, 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, Mr Joko, better known as Jokowi, said the doctor had asked if he had ever tested positive for 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 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, last Friday ruled that the vaccine, developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, is "pure and halal".
Indonesia's food and drug monitoring agency, BPOM, on Monday granted the vaccine emergency-use approval based on interim data showing that it is 65.3 per cent effective, above the World Health Organisation's 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.
The country has been 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 over 858,000 cases, including nearly 25,000 deaths to date, the authorities are pinning their hopes on a vaccine to help take the country out of the health and economic crisis.
Indonesia needs some 426 million doses for 181.5 million of its 270 million population to achieve herd immunity.
So far, it has secured 18 million doses of CoronaVac and 50 million doses of vaccines each from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca for delivery later this year.
Yesterday, Mr Joko met 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 were to be immunised yesterday, to build public confidence.
The Health Ministry had announced that the first phase of the vaccination programme, from this month to April, would prioritise high-risk groups, including 1.3 million healthcare workers and 17.4 million public workers in all 34 provinces, followed by the public.
The government hopes to inoculate about 70 per cent of its population 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 3½ years would be a more realistic target for completing the programme, according to The Jakarta Post.