Indonesia’s vaccine campaign lags rampaging pandemic

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Jakarta

Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine live on television last month, but despite the fanfare, his ambitious inoculation campaign is already facing glitches from refrigeration, distrust and disinformation.

Meanwhile, infections and deaths are rising faster than ever. Even if the vaccination programme goes smoothly, it will be months before the general population starts to be inoculated, health experts say.

“Disaster,” said Pandu Riono, a University of Indonesia epidemiologist when asked what he expects of the coming months.

“Healthcare will have already collapsed. Already there are many stories about people dying on arrival, in emergency and on the way because they are searching for a hospital. Even the graveyards are running out of space.”

Budi Gunadi Sadikin, the new health minister, told health ministry officials of his concerns about the vaccination rollout soon after his appointment in late December, a source familiar with the programme said.

The health ministry declined to comment on the report. Asked about claims the pandemic is spreading faster than vaccines can be administered, COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said the government was doing its best with available resources, and rather than focus on “negative predictions” it was working hard to implement “comprehensive health protocols, vaccines and clinical care at the same time”.

Separately, the health ministry has called for testing and contact tracing to be increased. In its first phase, Indonesia plans to vaccinate around 1.5 million healthcare workers by February 21, a goal the health ministry says is on track.

Jokowi, as the president is known, has said he hopes 181 million people will be vaccinated in the next 12 months, or about 1 million per day for a two-dose vaccine.

Indonesia is currently vaccinating about 50,000 people per day, according to the health ministry. The logistics and cold chain requirements in the sprawling archipelago of 270 million people, strung across more than 17,000 tropical islands, uniquely complicate the rollout.—AFP