A health worker administers a dummy injection to a volunteer in a Covid-19 vaccination trial run in Bekasi, West Java, last Thursday. (Antara Photo/Fakhri Hermansyah)

Pfizer's Vaccine Is Out of the Question as Indonesia Lacks Refrigerators: State Pharma Boss

BY :JAKARTA GLOBE

NOVEMBER 22, 2020

Jakarta. Indonesia is unlikely to procure Covid-19 vaccines produced by the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer and a German biotechnology company Biopharmaceutical New Technologies, or BioNTech, as the vaccines require refrigeration temperature far beyond the archipelago's logistical capability, a top executive at a state-owned pharmaceutical company said on Friday. 

Indonesia aimed to vaccinate 107 million people by the end of next year. It has secured commitments to source vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech, China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), and CanSino Biotech. However, they have yet to announce the result of their stage III clinical trials. 

On the other hand, Pfizer announced early this month that its vaccine has 95 percent effectiveness. On  Friday, the company applied for emergency use authorization to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saying it was ready to ship the vaccine within 24 hours of approval. 

"Indeed, Pfizer has just released the results of stage III clinical trials. The effectiveness is above 96 percent. But the vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius," Honesti Basyir, Bio Ferma president director, said. 

"Indonesia does not have such capabilities, and it is hazardous if this vaccine is not stored at the proper temperature. In fact, it will be damaged so that later when it is given to the community, it will be dangerous," Honesti said. 

In comparison, Moderna's vaccine needs minus 20 degrees Celcius for storage, while Sinovac vaccines would only need a storage temperature of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. Common house refrigerators usually able to set their freezer temperature as low as minus 18 degrees Celcius.  

Honesti said if Indonesia decided to buy Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the government would need to spend additional funds to overhaul its cold-chain distribution network to handle vaccine transportation at temperatures between minus 20 and 70 degrees Celsius.

"There are certain criteria that need to be met for Indonesia to be able to deliver the vaccine more quickly, starting from its development or procurement, to distribution and vaccination programs to the public," Honesti said.

Sinovac Vaccine

Bio Farma is currently involved with Sinovac in a third stage clinical trial in Bandung West Java for the vaccines. The state-controlled pharmaceutical company will produce some of the Sinovac vaccines for the local market once the vaccines secure approval from Indonesia's Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM).

Penny Lukito, the head of the Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM), said on Thursday that she estimated the Sinovac vaccine would obtain the emergency use authorization from the agency license by the third or fourth week of January, as BPOM need to evaluate the interim result from the vaccine third stage clinical trial. 

"We continue to carry out quality control, efficacy, and safety under the [World Health Organization's] references and guidelines. If the data is complete, the estimation for the vaccine to get EUA is the third or fourth week of January," she said. 

A study published in peer review journal Lancet Infectious Diseases early this week showed Sinovac vaccine could induce immune response among 700 participants in the company's phase one and phase two clinical trials. Sinovac would wait for the result from phase three trials, which were also conducted in Brazil, to assess the vaccine's efficacy. 

Indonesia's Need

The State-Owned Enterprises Ministry said that Indonesia needed close to 236 million doses of vaccine to immunize more than 107 million people between 18-59 years old or about 67 percent of the Indonesian population in the age group. That was lower than the previous target of 352 million doses of vaccines for 160 million people. 

The government targeted to procure and funds 30 percent of the needs, covering more than 32 million people, including the poor and the healthcare and Covid-19 frontline workers. The other 204 million would need to buy vaccines by themselves from state-controlled companies like Bio Farma. 

For those who had to buy their own vaccine, State-Owned Minister Erick Thohir said the government eyed make available 88.2 million doses from Sinovac, 30 million doses from Novavax, and 46.8 million doses of Merah Putih vaccine, developed by an Indonesian team at Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology. 

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