Indonesia starts mass COVID-19 vaccinations with president

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Mohamed Nass - Cairo - JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday received the first shot of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine after Indonesia approved it for emergency use and began efforts to vaccine millions of people in the world’s fourth most populated country.

After Widodo, top military, police and medical officials were vaccinated, as well as the secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the clerical body that last week ruled the vaccine was halal and could be taken by Muslims. Others such as a health care worker, businesspeople and a social media influencer also received the shots to encourage people to get the vaccine when it is available to them.

“We need to do the vaccination to stop the chain spread of COVID-19 and give health protection to us and the safety to all Indonesian people. It will also help accelerate economic improvement,” Widodo said.

“This vaccine is the instrument we can use to protect us. But more importantly, the vaccine is the instrument to protect our family, our neighbor, Indonesian people and the human civilization,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Wednesday.

“This vaccine is given to achieve herd immunity. All 70% of the world’s people must be vaccinated for that to be achieved. The participation of all Indonesians will greatly determine the success of this program,” he said.

Conditional use of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine is scheduled to be rolled out in the coming months with health care workers, civil servants and other at-risk populations prioritized. It will be free for all Indonesian citizens.

For Indonesia to vaccinate two-thirds of its population, 181.5 million people, Sadikin said the two-shot vaccine would require almost 427 million doses, including the estimate that 15% may be wasted.

Distribution will not be easy in the vast archipelago where transportation and infrastructure are limited in places. Health officials have cited concerns about keeping the vaccine refrigerated at the required 36–46 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its safety and effectiveness.

“We know that the cold-chain distribution is not complete. This is the obstacle,” Sadikin said Tuesday. “The cold-chain facilities are not enough so we are still distributing some of the vaccines. We are worried.”

Indonesia received its first shipment of the Sinovac vaccines on Dec. 6 and began distributing the doses around the country while awaiting emergency use authorization. It was cleared for emergency use based on clinical trial data and after the Indonesian Ulema Council declared the vaccine holy and halal.

Indonesia’s vaccination program is the first large-scale use of the Sinovac vaccine outside of China.

Indonesia has recorded more than 846,000 cases of the virus, including over 24,600 deaths.

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By EDNA TARIGAN and VICTORIA MILKO

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Image: In this photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, President Joko Widodo, left, receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Widodo on Wednesday received the first shot of a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine after Indonesia approved it for emergency use and began efforts to vaccine millions of people in the world’s fourth most populated country. Writings on the banner in the background read “Safe and Halal.” (Agus Suparto/Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP)

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