JAKARTA: Indonesia has received 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech on Dec 6 and is set to receive raw materials to produce 15 million doses from the same company later this month.
The arrival of the first batch of CoronaVac is part of a deal between Indonesia and Sinovac as the country has been testing the vaccine in a late-stage clinical trial since August.
Another 1.8 million doses of the jabs are expected to be sent to Indonesia by January the latest, followed by raw materials to produce 30 million doses of the vaccine in the same month.
The deal guaranteed Indonesia priority access to the technical know-how on producing the vaccine, so that its state-owned pharmaceutical firm Bio Farma can produce the jabs with the raw materials.
Bio Farma is the country's only vaccine producer and has been partnering with the University of Padjajaran to conduct the trials in Southeast Asia’s biggest country. Late-stage trials of the Sinovac vaccine are also being carried out in Brazil, Chile and Turkey.
“There will also be a transfer of technology. So, the ones that will be marketed (in Indonesia) will be those manufactured at Bio Farma, meaning it will carry Bio Farma's brand,” Bio Farma’s head of clinical trials Rini Mulia Sari had said back in August during a media briefing at the company’s headquarter in Bandung city.
About 1,620 volunteers have taken part in the clinical trial since August which is scheduled to last over a period of six months.
The latest development comes as Indonesia prepares for a mass vaccination to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the archipelago which has so far infected more than 600,000 people and caused more than 19,000 deaths.
READ: Indonesia to gain priority access to Chinese firm's COVID-19 vaccine formula for taking part in human trial
After the first batch of the vaccines reached Indonesian shores, officials have shed light on the next few steps before people can be inoculated.
WHERE ARE THE VACCINES NOW?
Immediately after the 1.2 million Coronavac vaccines arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which serves Greater Jakarta, they were sterilised.
The jabs were subsequently stored in seven cold storage containers and then delivered to Bio Farma’s headquarter in Bandung.
About 1,168 police and military personnel escorted the vaccines until they arrived in the capital city of West Java province.
It is now stored at Bio Farma in special coolers in a room with a temperature of 2 to 8 degree Celsius.
Police and military personnel are also guarding the vaccines at the headquarters.
President Joko Widodo said he was thankful about the arrival of the vaccines.
“This means we can immediately prevent the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak," he said in a televised speech on Dec 6.
READ: Indonesia foreign minister says vaccine cooperation with China won’t influence Jakarta's position on South China Sea
However, mass vaccination can only be carried out after the clinical trial results are out and the country’s food and drug agency BPOM gives its stamp of approval on the vaccine's quality, safety and effectiveness.
"Scientific considerations and the results of clinical trials, these will determine when vaccination can be started," said Jokowi, as the president is popularly known.
Out of the 1.2 million single doses from Sinovac, 568 vials have been allocated for a quality test conducted by Bio Farma and BPOM, said Bio Farma’s president director Honesti Basyir on Dec 8.
As BPOM waits for the results of the clinical trial in Indonesia and other countries, which are expected to be known by the end of January, the government has started to make preparations on the distribution of vaccines across the archipelago.
This included getting the supporting equipment and human resources ready and finalising vaccination management.
“We have been preparing this for several months through simulations in several provinces, and I’m sure once it has been decided that vaccination can start, everything is ready,” said Mr Widodo in his Dec 6 televised speech.
Since it is impossible to vaccinate everyone simultaneously, the president said, the public should take note of the announcement and instructions from the authorities.
The government is targeting to inoculate 107 million people aged 18 to 59 through two schemes. Indonesia has a population of over 260 million.
The first programme which the Ministry of Health is overseeing, is free for about 32 million people, while the second under the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprise is a paid programme for about 75 million citizens.
READ: Workers in 18 to 59 age bracket to be given priority for COVID-19 vaccine, says Indonesian health minister
Health workers, military and police personnel, as well as civil servants who provide direct public service are among the groups which belong in the first scheme.
Workers in the private sectors are among those categorised in the second group.
“The data collection process is carried out in an integrated manner through the One Data Vaccination Information System for COVID-19, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Communication and Information,” said Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto last Thursday (Dec 10) at the parliament.
The system will not only filter eligible vaccine receivers, but also serves as government and independent vaccine registration application, which maps the supply and distribution of the vaccines.
It will also monitor the results of the vaccination.
WHEN CAN INDONESIANS BE VACCINATED?
BPOM, the food and drug agency, has said that the earliest the vaccine can be administered is when the clinical trial results are known by the end of January.
If the data look well and there are no problems, BPOM can grant authorisation for an emergency use intended for health workers.
For this to happen, the vaccine’s effectiveness rate must be at least 50 per cent, according to BPOM.
Meanwhile, a non-emergency authorisation and vaccination for other priority groups can most likely start in February or March, the agency explained.
READ: Premature reopening, gatherings among factors that led to COVID-19 clusters in Jakarta workplaces
Although Mr Putranto had explained that 30 per cent of the target group will get the jabs for free, the parliament has suggested to increase the percentage of people who do not have to pay.
Health ministry's director and spokesperson for the vaccination programme Siti Nadia Tarmidi told local media that Java and Bali islands will be prioritised since they are the most populated regions in the country and are COVID-19 hotspots.
MORE VACCINES TO COME
Apart from vaccines from Sinovac Biotech, Indonesia is also working with US drug maker Pfizer, British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and global vaccine programme COVAX.
Chief of the economic recovery task force Budi Gunadi Sadikin told parliament last Thursday that it has also secured deals with another US firm, Novavax Inc, and is planning to hold talks with Moderna, which is Massachusetts-based.
The country is also currently developing its own vaccine Merah Putih named after the colours of the Indonesian flag.
Mr Putranto, the health minister, said in the parliament last week that about 246 million doses of vaccine are needed for the two vaccination programmes.
Mr Sadikin added that the government has so far secured 125.5 million doses from Sinovac and 30 million from Novavax.
Indonesia is also looking at purchasing 50 million doses each from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, he added.
NOT TIME TO BE COMPLACENT: EXPERT
An Indonesian volunteer of the Sinovac Biotech trial, who wished to only be known as Rizky, told CNA he is quite happy that there is a vaccine.
“Because this is a sign that the government is serious in handling this pandemic. There is no country which wants to continuously experience this pandemic,” he said.
Under the trial, each volunteer is given two shots. Half of them would be injected with the vaccine candidate while the other half would get a placebo, and they would only be informed of which they were administered in March.
Mr Rizky said he has taken two shots and has not felt any side effects so far from participating in the clinical trials.
Despite the arrival of the vaccines, epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia Pandu Riono warned against complacency.
“Don’t be euphoric just yet,” said Mr Riono.
“We are buying vaccines without knowing its effectiveness,” he told CNA.
The health expert said that vaccines serve as a secondary prevention measure to stop the spread of the disease.
The primary prevention strategy is still wearing masks, washing hands, conducting safe distancing, and performing aggressive testing and case tracing.
“Don’t rush things. A vaccine is not the only solution,” he said.