Southeast Asia’s Virus Hotspot Counts on Early Vaccine Rollout


Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous nation that’s battling Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreak, is gearing for a massive vaccination program that the government wants to start as soon as next month.

The government plans to kick off with an initial 3 million doses in December, prioritising health workers, police, military and public servants, according to Budi Gunadi Sadikin, who leads the national economic recovery task force. The government expects another 13 million will be inoculated in the first quarter of 2021, with majority of Indonesians receiving their jabs later in the year.

Novavax Inc. is set to provide 30 million doses of its vaccine candidate, augmenting Indonesia’s supply of 85 million from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and 57.6 million of the locally produced Merah Putih, Sadikin told parliament on Tuesday. Indonesia doesn’t have any supply agreement with Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE which said their vaccines have above 90% effectivity rates.

Indonesia needs about 246 million doses to vaccinate 107 million people ages 18 to 59 years old, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said at the same meeting. The government will shoulder the costs of nearly 74 million doses. The roll-out would pose unique challenges for Indonesia, which would have to distribute vaccines across more than 17,000 islands.

Indonesia is pinning its hopes on a vaccine as virus cases surpass 470,000 amid limited testing and contact tracing. The pandemic has driven the economy into its first recession since the Asian financial crisis and unemployment to a nine-year high.

Local clinical trials for the Sinovac vaccine are complete and subjects have shown no serious adverse effects as of Nov 6, according to Penny Lukito, head of the country’s food and drug agency.

The first batch of Sinovac vaccines is slated to arrive at the end of this month. The regulator is ready to authorise it for emergency use once it completes data analysis from the clinical trials, Lukito said.

The government will use a digital platform that will allow it to monitor demographic data, logistics, distribution, procurement and implementation of the vaccination programme, Sadikin said. It will also provide the public with a digital dashboard on the progress of inoculation.

The government was currently mulling options for tax incentives for investors, including a “tax holiday” or allowance, she said.

Fauzi Ichsan, the former chief executive of the Indonesia Deposit Insurance Corporation, cautioned about the challenges of growing the fund.

“It’s not easy because Indonesia runs a current account deficit, a ballooning state budget deficit and it still needs the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves for currency stabilisation,” he said.

“It needs to make sure that the institution has a clear legal status for investors, including tax incentives, and has a team of fund managers with good track record in investment.”