JAKARTA: President Joko Widodo has been criss-crossing vaccination centres in Jakarta, keeping tabs on the national vaccination programme and rallying those in the capital city to get inoculated quickly.
“I have conveyed to the governor of Jakarta that at the end of August, the target is that 7.5 million residents in Jakarta must have been vaccinated," he said on Jun 14 when observing a mass vaccination event at a residential area.
With more than two million COVID-19 cases, Indonesia is currently grappling with a surge of infections following last month’s Idul Fitri holiday where people returned to their hometowns to be with loved ones and throngs of people crowded tourist spots.
Although Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, acknowledged that the target of inoculating 7.5 million Jakartans is quite ambitious, he said it has to be done in order to achieve herd immunity in the capital. Jakarta, which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, is home to about 10.5 million people.
Experts interviewed by CNA said it is possible to inoculate 7.5 million Jakartans by the end of August as the capital has the infrastructure and enough vaccines. However, it is not a given that this will lead to herd immunity.
To reach herd immunity, time is needed for the antibodies to be reproduced, said Professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama who is a former director of the World Health Organization South-East Asia Regional Office (WHO SEARO).
He also noted that the effectiveness of the vaccines has yet to be fully known. “Every vaccine can practically handle the current variants, but the efficacy decreases (for the new variants of concern),” he said.
Indonesia has received around 104.7 million vaccines with the majority of them being from Sinovac, followed by AstraZeneca and Sinopharm.
As of Jun 21, at least 3.5 million people in Jakarta have received their first jab while about 1.8 million have received their second jab.
Prof Aditama, now a director for postgraduate studies at YARSI University in Jakarta, explained that in order to reach the target, at least five factors will play a role, namely vaccine availability, infrastructure, vaccine hesitancy, the ease of getting vaccinated and public communication.
He believed although generally vaccine availability and infrastructure are not major problems in Jakarta, factors such as the ease of getting vaccinated, vaccine hesitancy and public communication should not be taken lightly.
He suggested making access to vaccination centres easier by setting up vaccine centres in all health clinics besides in stadiums and malls in the city centres.
Mdm Masdalina Pane, head of the Professional Development Division of the Indonesian Association of Epidemiology Experts (PAEI), also believed that the 7.5 million target can be achieved.
“It is relatively easier to achieve because, in Jakarta, access to healthcare is not an issue,” she said.
But she also questioned whether herd immunity can be easily achieved.
“Herd immunity can be achieved not only through vaccination. Those who have contracted COVID-19 also have some (antibodies).
“But there have been cases where even though the person was positive and recovered, the person did not develop an antibody.
“And secondly, there has been no evidence among those who have been vaccinated how long it (the vaccine) can give protection. Because if it can protect for six months, then those who got vaccinated in January – the vaccination programme kicked off on Jan 13 – by July they should be vaccinated again.”
She added: "Containment needs to involve a few activities, it cannot be done just by vaccination.”
On Wednesday (Jun 23), Indonesia logged a record 15,308 new COVID-19 cases. The national total is now 2,033,421.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, Mdm Pane suggested stronger measures need to be taken such as closing borders and having a longer quarantine period for those who arrive in Indonesia from abroad.
Indonesia currently imposes a five-day quarantine policy for people arriving from overseas, with the exception of travellers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines who need to be quarantined for 14 days.
She also said tracing needs to be done rigorously and correctly, especially for people arriving from abroad.
“In Indonesia, if the tracing is done strongly, variants of concern can still be contained. The problem is ... testing is done on the first day of contact (between a person with COVID-19 and another).
She also noted that during quarantine, the exit test is done on day five.
“For COVID-19, the incubation period is two to 14 days. On average it is five days …. but there are many who only exhibit symptoms after day five, there are some who even display symptoms after day 14."
Despite the unknowns when it comes to attaining herd immunity by end of August, epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia Pandu Riono said that authorities should just focus on vaccinating as many people in Jakarta as possible.
“People, the private sector, they all should be involved," he said.
Mr Riono also noted that there are many people who work or live in Jakarta but their ID says they live elsewhere and this could hinder vaccination.
“Don’t focus on whether they have a Jakarta ID or not. That’s a very outdated approach."
He added: “Just vaccinate as many people as possible … Vaccines can only work if they are injected into people.”