Concerns grow over scattered coronavirus vaccinations in Indonesia

Concerns grow over scattered coronavirus vaccinations in Indonesia

Jakarta Indonesia has largely recovered from a mid-year spike in coronavirus cases and deaths that was one of the worst in the region, but with the vaccination campaign stalled due to logistical and other issues, and with the holidays approaching, experts and officials warn the island nation may soon face another surge.

Indonesia began launching the vaccination earlier than any other Southeast Asian country on January 13, and with infection and death rates soaring in July and August, it boosted its program to more than 1 million injections a day.

But as the world’s fourth most populous country, it has had a lot more work to do than most, and today it is only 33% fully fortified and 16% partly immune, far from its smaller neighbor Malaysia, which has 76% of complete vaccines, according to Our World. in the data.

Most vaccines have been distributed in urban areas on the largest islands of Java and Bali in the archipelago, while many are not reached in the smaller rural islands – where health care systems are often rudimentary and the population tends to age, said Dickie Bodeman, an Indonesian epidemiologist and consultant. academic government.

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He said that as more people return to these areas during the holidays, there is a greater risk that the virus will spread to these residents, some of whom have been partially protected by their isolation.

“It won’t be as bad as we saw in July and August, but if we look maybe at the first wave, in January 2020, it’s probably similar because of its weakness,” he said.

He said that because Indonesia started its own vaccination program early on, there is also a greater possibility that the effectiveness is now waning. Reinforcements are planned but likely won’t start until early 2022.

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

Bodeman said the country must speed up its vaccination program now, while cases are stalled and health care systems are not overwhelmed.

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Indonesia has reported more than 4.25 million cases and 143,000 deaths from COVID-19 out of 270 million people. At the height of the latest increase in July, the number of cases stood at 56,757 a day, as hospitals were overwhelmed with patients and beds and oxygen supplies ran out.

With a poor record of testing and case reporting, many questioned the official numbers and this week the Ministry of Health admitted there are likely to be around four times the number of officially listed cases.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Siti Nadia Termezi noted that one antibody study in Jakarta residents earlier this year indicated that nearly 50% of people in the capital had contracted the COVID-19 virus.

Bodeman said his research indicates that up to 30-35% of the Indonesian population has COVID-19 — which may be a silver lining to the vaccination cloud, as many have developed a natural immunity to the virus.

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

Besides issues with distribution in remote areas, Muslim-majority Indonesia faces increased hesitation about the vaccine by many due to the belief that shots other than Chinese-made Sinovac are not “halal” or permitted under Islamic law, although the Indonesian Ulema Council, higher An Islamic body, said any vaccinations are allowed.

Sfrizal Rahman, head of the Indonesian Medical Association in Aceh province, on the northwest tip of Sumatra island, said officials need to reach out to local religious leaders to garner their support to move forward with vaccines.

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

He said Aceh currently has only about 35% of its population partially inoculated, up from about 30% in September, and is facing increasing headwinds, including the increasing spread of misinformation.

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“Our education is still incomplete compared to what people are learning on social media,” he said. “Unfortunately, what is posted on social media is a lot of hoaxes, but it is more influential in society than what is found in official sources.”

It didn’t help that the prominent voice of former health minister Siti Fadela Supari, who was serving a corruption conviction, was one of those sources, advising against getting the vaccine citing completely exposed conspiracy theories.

Due to the recent decrease in the number of cases, the sense of urgency for vaccination has also decreased, and the World Health Organization observed a strong decrease in the number of injections given for three consecutive weeks, the last of which was a decrease of 11.3% from November.15 to 21.

The government is trying to ramp things up, getting 102 million doses of vaccine in December through purchases and donations from other countries.

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More cold storage is also being added, so that each county has at least one large-capacity facility.

In a sign of the virus’ recent resurgence in Europe, Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadkin earlier this week urged people not to indulge in a false sense of security due to the current low number of cases.

He stressed that they should take any available vaccine, 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 proven to be safe, so feel free to get vaccinated right away,” he said.

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

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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