Coronavirus Vaccines

The privileged jumping vaccine queue in Indonesia

Anger mounts as many people from privileged backgrounds, including corruption suspects, get vaccinated

Health workers queueing for the vaccine at a sports stadium in Jakarta earlier this month. Controversy has dogged the vaccination drive, with long queues and limited supplies of the vaccine.
Health workers queueing for the vaccine at a sports stadium in Jakarta earlier this month. Controversy has dogged the vaccination drive, with long queues and limited supplies of the vaccine.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tempers have begun to flare in Indonesia as a number of people from privileged backgrounds jumped the queue in the Covid-19 vaccination drive that has covered 1.62 million people as at yesterday.

Early this month, pharmacy owner Helena Lim, dubbed the "Crazy Rich Jakartan" after the Hollywood comedy Crazy Rich Asians, was vaccinated at a health community centre in the capital by claiming to be one of the support staff at a medical store.

A video posted on Instagram showing her queueing for the jab went viral, triggering a public outcry over her eligibility to receive the vaccine which, at that time, was meant only for health workers.

Police launched an investigation shortly after.

The families of lawmakers, who since Thursday were being vaccinated along with the legislators at the House of Representatives compound in Jakarta, have also come under scrutiny.

A lawmaker from the National Awakening Party, Mr Abdul Kadir Karding, told Kompas.com that he and his family were vaccinated on Thursday following an invitation from the House's secretariat-general.

Thirty-nine out of 61 corruption suspects detained by Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), including former social affairs minister Juliari Batubara, had also been vaccinated, the KPK said.

Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation, rolled out its vaccination programme on Jan 13 with a target of inoculating 181.5 million people - or 67 per cent of its nearly 270 million population - and achieving herd immunity in 15 months.

In the programme's first phase, which is ongoing, 1.47 million health workers are due to be vaccinated.

The second phase, which began on Feb 17, targeted 38.5 million people deemed to be in high-risk groups, including police officers, military personnel, lawmakers, hawkers and the elderly.

Professor Wiku Adisasmito, a spokesman for the Covid-19 Mitigation Task Force, has confirmed that the families of MPs were also vaccinated.

 HELENA LIM/INSTAGRAM
A video showing pharmacy owner Helena Lim getting the jab in Jakarta early this month caused a public outcry over her eligibility to receive the shot at a time when only health workers were being vaccinated. PHOTO: HELENA LIM/INSTAGRAM

"Basically, the vaccination cannot guarantee that someone is immune to the virus and, therefore, to reduce the possibility (of infection), the measure is taken, beginning from the close circles," he told The Sunday Times.

Controversy has dogged the vaccination drive, with long queues and limited supplies of the vaccine.

Even in Jakarta, the elderly must queue, sometimes from dawn, to get inoculated at some health facilities.

Local media has also reported on issues related to an online registration system and limited daily vaccine quotas.

Dr Tri Maharani, a volunteer at citizen coalition Lapor Covid-19, described the vaccination for the lawmakers and their families as "inappropriate" and "opportunistic".

She added that there was no urgency to vaccinate them at a time when many of those in the priority groups, such as the elderly and health workers, have yet to receive their shots.

"If they are truly the people's representatives, they will prioritise the people they represent.

"If necessary, they should be the last one to get the vaccination, let alone their families," she told The Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, anger over "VIP immunisation" has rocked governments in South America, The New York Times reported on Thursday. Two ministers in Peru, one in Ecuador and one in Argentina have resigned for receiving or giving preferential access to scarce vaccines.

In Brazil and these countries, prosecutors are looking into accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2021, with the headline 'The privileged jumping vaccine queue in Indonesia'. Subscribe