Concerns grow over VOC vaccinations in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesia has recovered significantly from a mid-year spike in coronavirus cases and deaths that was one of the worst in the region, but with a vaccination campaign in focus dead due to logistical and other glitches, and with the holiday approaching, experts and officials warn the island nation could soon face another surge.

Indonesia began its vaccination rollout earlier than any other country in Southeast Asia on January 13, and as infection and death rates skyrocketed in July and August, it increased its program to over a million vaccines per day.

But as the fourth most populous nation in the world, it had a lot more work to do than most, and today it is only 33% fully vaccinated and 16% partially vaccinated, far behind its smaller neighbor Malaysia, which has 76% fully vaccinated, according to Our World. in the data.

Most of the vaccines have been distributed in the more urban areas of the archipelago’s largest islands, Java and Bali, while many on smaller, more rural islands – where health systems are often rudimentary and the population has tend to be older – have not been affected, said Dicky Budiman, Indonesian epidemiologist and government academic adviser.

As more people return to these areas during the holidays, there is a greater risk of the virus spreading to these populations, some of whom have been partially protected by their isolation, he said.

“It won’t be as bad as what we saw in July and August, but if we maybe look at the first wave, in January 2020, it might be similar due to their vulnerability,” he said. he declares.

Because Indonesia started its vaccination program early, it is also more likely that the effectiveness will decline now, he said. Boosters are planned but probably won’t start until early 2022.

The government is urging people to avoid travel if they can and has increased restrictions in all provinces over Christmas and New Years, but some 20 million people are still expected to vacation on the popular islands of Java and Bali. during the holidays.

Budiman said the country should speed up the immunization program now, as cases are down and health systems are not overwhelmed.

Indonesia has reported more than 4.25 million cases and 143,000 deaths from COVID-19 among its 270 million people. At the height of the latest increase in July, it reached 56,757 cases per day as hospitals were overwhelmed with sick patients and lacked beds and oxygen supplies.

With a poor record in testing and case reports, many have questioned the official figures and the Health Department admitted this week that there have probably been around four times as many cases as officially listed.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, noted that a study of antibodies among residents of Jakarta earlier this year suggested that nearly 50% of residents of the capital had been infected with COVID- 19.

Budiman said his own research suggests that up to 30-35% of Indonesia’s population has had COVID-19 – which may be a silver liner for the vaccination cloud, in that many have reportedly developed natural immunity to it. the virus.

“But it is still far from the threshold for collective immunity, and we know that immunity to vaccines and infections is waning,” he said.

Beyond distribution issues in remote areas, Muslim-majority Indonesia faces growing reluctance from many to believe that injections other than Chinese-made Sinovac are not “Halal” or “Halal”. allowed under Islamic law, although the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Islamic body, has said all vaccines are allowed.

Safrizal Rahman, head of the Indonesian Medical Association in Aceh province, at the northwestern tip of the island of Sumatra, said officials should contact local religious leaders for their support in moving vaccines forward .

“We have to make them a priority because they are role models for society,” he told The Associated Press.

Aceh currently only has around 35% of its population partially vaccinated, up from around 30% in September, and it faces increasing headwinds, including the growing proliferation of disinformation, he said.

“Our education is still lacking compared to what people are learning on social media,” he said. “Unfortunately, what comes out on social media is a lot of hoaxes, but it’s more influential in society than what you find in official sources.”

It didn’t help that the prominent voice of former health minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who served time for corruption, was one of those sources, advising against getting the vaccine citing conspiracy theories. completely refuted.

As the number of cases has declined recently, the sense of urgency to get vaccinated has also diminished, and the World Health Organization has noted a sharp drop in the number of vaccines given for three consecutive weeks, most recently a drop in 11.3% compared to November. 15 to 21.

The government is trying to get things going and is acquiring 102 million doses of the vaccine in December through purchases and donations from other countries.

Other cold stores are also added, so that each province would have at least one facility equipped to hold large quantities.

Noting the recent resurgence in the spread of the virus in Europe, Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin urged people earlier this week not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the current low number of cases .

He stressed that they should take any vaccine available, noting that AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna have been shown to be more effective than the more popular Sinovac.

“Don’t worry, these vaccines have been shown to be safe, don’t hesitate to get the vaccine immediately,” he said.

“Don’t let what happened in Europe happen to us,” he added.

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