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Jokowi gets Sinovac shot to kick off Indonesia mass vaccinations

Nation hopes to achieve herd immunity as COVID cases hit daily high

Indonesian President Joko Widodo receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Wednesday.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo kicked off a mass inoculation program by getting his country's first shot of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine on Wednesday, as the nation recorded its biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Donning his trademark white shirt, Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, received the shot on Wednesday morning at the presidential palace in Jakarta, at a makeshift vaccination station on the balcony.

The archipelago has so far failed to stem the spread of the virus. The government is hinging its hopes on a successful mass vaccination rollout for a rebound in the country's economic fortunes.

"Vaccination is important to break the chain of transmission of this coronavirus and provide protection for our health, safety and security for us ... as well as helping to accelerate economic recovery," the president said after receiving the vaccine.

Along with the president, religious leaders, the military chief and the health minister received shots on Wednesday.

Interim data from a late-stage human trial in Indonesia showed the jabs to be 65.3% effective, Penny Lukito, head of BPOM, Indonesia's food and drugs agency, said on Monday. In Brazil, Sinovac's local partners said on Tuesday that it had a "general efficacy" of 50.38%, Reuters reported.

The World Health Organization recommends that the primary efficacy should be at least 50% for COVID-19 vaccines.

Indonesia added another 11,278 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily increase, taking its total to 858,043. An additional 306 people were also reported dead -- a new daily record of coronavirus fatalities -- taking the total to 24,951. The government on Monday extended its existing ban on foreign visitors for two more weeks, and Jakarta has imposed tighter social restrictions from Monday for two weeks in the capital area.

Social restrictions plunged the country into its first recession in two decades in the third quarter of 2020, and the economic outlook this year remains bleak. The World Bank projects a 2.2% contraction in 2020, with a 4.4% pick up in growth this year -- albeit lower than the country's average growth rate of 5% in recent years. The growth projection is contingent on the gradual easing of mobility restrictions and the wide availability of an effective and safe vaccine, the multilateral institution said.

Indonesia has so far received 3 million ready-to-use vaccine doses from Sinovac, and as of Tuesday, 1.2 million doses had been distributed throughout the country. Fifteen million doses of bulk vaccines also arrived on Tuesday. The country has managed to secure 229 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac, Novavax and global vaccine program COVAX, and is in talks to get 50 million doses each from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

The government is looking to vaccinate 1.4 million health care workers by the end of February, according to the health minister, and then "17.4 million public sector officers whose job it is to meet many people."

Indonesia's approach differs to other countries, which are prioritizing the elderly population. Indonesia is first inoculating its working-age population, or those in the 18 to 59 age group. This is partly because there are not yet enough data on Sinovac vaccine's efficacy on elderly people, but also because the government hopes that prioritizing the working age population will help kick-start economic activity faster.

The health ministry has set a target of vaccinating 181 million of Indonesia's 270 million people in 12 months, a figure it believes is needed to reach herd immunity.

That time frame, however, is ambitious because of the logistical difficulties the country faces. Indonesia is made up of 17,000 islands, and in some remote areas, cold chain storage is unavailable.

"When we deliver [the initial] 1.2 million [vaccines], there are two provinces that have not received [their share]," Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said Tuesday at a parliamentary hearing. "The cold chain distribution here is incomplete... We are worried that [we experienced problems with] only the first batch of 1.2 million. If later we send 1.8 million [of the 3 million vaccines at hand], the challenges will be even harder."

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