JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has volunteered to be the first person in the country to receive COVID-19 vaccine.
He also said that the vaccines will be available to citizens at "no fee whatsoever" in a video uploaded on the State Palace’s YouTube channel on Wednesday (Dec 16).
The country had 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 CoronaVac vaccine, however, is still in its late-stage trials in Indonesia as well as Brazil, Chile and Turkey. Indonesia’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) will only give its stamp of approval on the vaccine's quality, safety and effectiveness when the clinical trial results are out.
In a government survey in September, about 65 per cent of the respondents said they were willing to be inoculated. However, only 35 per cent of those who said they wished to be vaccinated were willing to pay.
Mr Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, said in the video: “I will personally become the first recipient (of the vaccine) to boost trust among the people that the vaccines used are safe.”
The government had earlier planned to offer the vaccines for free to around 32 million health workers, military and police personnel, as well as civil servants, while the rest of the people would have to pay to have themselves inoculated.
Indonesia has a population of over 260 million.
The decision had drawn criticism, with some people highlighting the fact that other countries are providing the vaccines for free.
“After receiving inputs from citizens and after we conducted recalculation regarding state coffers, I can say that COVID-19 vaccines for citizens will be free. Free and no fee whatsoever,” Jokowi said.
“Therefore, I instructed all Cabinet members, ministries, agencies and regional governments to prioritise vaccination in their 2021 budget. I also instruct the finance minister to prioritise and reallocate other expenses to ensure the availability of these free vaccines so there will be no reason for people not to get 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.
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.
Indonesia is one of the worst countries to be affected by the pandemic with more than 600,000 cases and close to 20,000 deaths.