Long queues for Covid-19 vaccines as infections soar in Indonesia

Snaking queues are common at vaccination centres across Indonesia and stories abound of mayhem at such centres.
Snaking queues are common at vaccination centres across Indonesia and stories abound of mayhem at such centres.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Throughout her life, Dewi, an Indonesian mother of two, has turned to herbs and traditional medicine whenever she fell ill.

Over the past few months, she had refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 because of what she read on social media about the purported side effects, including skin problems and death.

Lately, though, she has had a change of heart as many people she knows have contracted the disease and some have died. She is also well aware of the scarcity of hospital beds, medicines and oxygen.

Dewi, along with her husband and younger daughter, is now listed among the 1,000 people due to be vaccinated at a nearby hospital in Sidoarjo, East Java.

"God willing, I'm going to be vaccinated even though I fear it. A lot of my neighbours, relatives and friends have died suddenly," she told The Straits Times.

"Death is in God's hands. (But) the vaccination prevents us from getting severe symptoms if we catch it (Covid-19)."

Like Dewi, many Indonesians are now rushing to get vaccinated as Covid-19 infections soar in the country, hitting an all-time high of 56,757 daily cases on Thursday (July 15), a more than tenfold increase from early last month. The number of deaths has soared to around 1,000 a day.

Snaking queues are common at vaccination centres across Indonesia and stories abound of mayhem at such centres.

Early this month, more than 1,000 people ignored health protocols to flock to the health agency complex in Lampung, the provincial capital of Lampung province, to get inoculated.

On Wednesday, an over-enthusiastic mob of more than 1,000 people knocked down the gate of a health polytechnic in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province, to queue for vaccination. The organiser, equipped with only 250 doses that day, decided to postpone the event.

Encouraged by friends and neighbours, housewife Elisabeth Setiawati registered to be vaccinated through telemedicine service provider Halodoc early last month. She received her first dose on July 2 at a health community clinic in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.

"I think only of protecting everyone in my close circle, such as my old mother-in-law and young kids," she said. "If I'm vaccinated and fall sick, hopefully I can recover by just self-isolating."

The government has accelerated the nationwide vaccination drive in an effort to reach its target of achieving herd immunity by inoculating two-thirds of its 270 million population. It hopes to ramp up vaccinations to a million doses a day this month and doubling that by next month.

Apart from health community clinics and hospitals, vaccinations are also available in a number of other places, including at stadiums, train stations, airports, police stations and military bases.

The number of front-line staff at mass vaccination centres stood at 126,000, said Dr Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry's vaccination spokesman. There were only 30,000 deployed at the start of the programme. "The number will continue to increase in line with regional needs," she told ST.

Aside from rushing for vaccination, Indonesians have been stocking up on medications, including ivermectin, dubbed a Covid-19 "miracle cure" by leading politicians and social media influencers. Antiviral medicines at pharmacies have been snapped up as quickly as they are stocked, leaving those in dire need of them struggling to find any.

A West Jakarta resident, Ms Desy Setiawati, 29, who tested positive for Covid-19 in a rapid antigen test on July 6, spent days trying to secure antiviral and antibiotic drugs through a telemedicine service provider to no avail. Her siblings also failed to get any after going around the city to check at pharmacies and health community clinics.

She finally got the medication at a nearby health clinic, but only after a polymerase chain reaction swab test confirmed the antigen test result on Monday. "The medicines affect so many lives. Why are people taking advantage of this situation?" she asked.

On Thursday, President Joko Widodo launched an initiative to distribute 300,000 drug and health supplement packages for those testing positive for Covid-19 and self-isolating across Java and Bali islands, which represent the majority of cases nationwide.

Indonesian police have, in the meantime, stepped up efforts to combat hoarding of drugs and oxygen, and a few people have been arrested.