Health workers prepare diphtheria vaccines for employees at the Ministry of State Secretariat in Jakarta last January. (Antara Photo/Rosa Panggabean)

Vaccine Plan With AstraZeneca Is Still On: Airlangga

BY :DION BISARA, LENNY TRISTIA TAMBUN

OCTOBER 28, 2020

Jakarta. The government has yet to cancel an order of 100 million doses of vaccines from the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca as it would make up a bulk of the government plan to immunize most of the Indonesian population by next year, a top official said on Tuesday.

"We have not decided on [any cancelation]," the coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, said.

"AstraZeneca remains one of the candidates [for vaccine suppliers] as their study is still ongoing in other countries. Their price is also close to [what we have announced] to the public, and they can ensure to fulfill big volume order," Airlangga, who is also the chairman of the Covid-19 Handling and National Economic Recovery Committee, said.

Indonesia aims to immunize 160 million people, or about 80 percent of the country's population who are most susceptible to Covid-19, by the end of next year, a Health Ministry's document showed. The country needs 352 million doses of vaccines, after taking into account the wastage rate, to meet that goal, according to the document. 

Apart from the 100 million doses from AstraZeneca, Indonesia currently secures commitments to source 3 million doses from Sinovac Biotech, another 15 million from China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), and 100,000 from CanSino Biotech. CanSino vaccine is now in use under an emergency use authorization (EUA) in China. 

"What the government is trying to do right now is to get as many [procurements] commitments as possible, because we are going to vaccinate 60 percent of our [total] population, to reach herd immunity," Brian Sri Prahastuti, an expert at Presidential Staff Office, told BeritaSatu TV.

Brian said Merah-Putih vaccine, developed by an Indonesian team at Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, would not be ready until next year. "So, we must procure from abroad," Brian said. 

Wiku Adisasmito, the spokesman for the Covid-19 Handling Task Force, said the coronavirus vaccine procurement involves dealings new to the government. 

"We must understand that the Covid-19 vaccine trade that involves many sectors and countries is something that has never been done before, so we need to tolerate changing decisions if necessary because they are all aimed at the interests of the country. We must make this pandemic a momentum for learning," Wiku told the Globe. 

The officials' comment came after a senior official at the Health Ministry said last week that Indonesia had missed a deadline for a $250 million downpayment, or 50 percent of the vaccine order value, to AstraZeneca.

"In the deal (with AstraZeneca), it says there is no product yet, so the downpayment will be used to build a production facility in Thailand," Achmad Yurianto, who was at the time the director-general of infectious disease at the Health Ministry, told IDN Times news website last Thursday. 

"In another clause it said, if there is a failure in production (of Covid-19 vaccine), they are not to be blamed. So, we did not place an order," Yurianto said. 

Yurianto later clarified the comment, saying Indonesia has yet to agree on any purchasing deal with the company. Instead, Indonesia only signed a letter of intent, for which Minister for State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi traveled to London early this month.

A team consisting of experts from the Health Ministry, Drug and Food Control Agency (BPOM), the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) was still studying the British and Chinese vaccines' efficacy, effectiveness, and compliance to the halal standards, before greenlighting any of the vaccines, Yurianto said. 

A day after the comment had become public, Health Minister Agus Terwan Putranto removed Yurianto from his post as director-general and reassigned him to a non-executive position as a minister's adviser. "This is done solely as an effort to reform and strengthen the organization," Terawan said in a statement. 

Vaccine procurement has been a contentious issue in Indonesia in the past weeks, especially after the government said it would start to immunize doctors, nurses, and frontline workers in Covid-19 handling next month. Experts and doctors alike warned that vaccines should not replace the testing, tracing, and isolation efforts to contain the coronavirus.

The Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) has told the government not to hasten the vaccine distribution. 

"About choosing the vaccine, there are absolute conditions that must be met, including the vaccines effectivity, immunogenicity, and safety which are proven by the result of third phase clinical trial," IDI said in a statement last week.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo heeded the call, saying that the government must be vigilant in procuring vaccines, especially because one has cleared third-phase clinical trials. 

"Let us not rush to vaccinate that we disregard scientific principles and health data. Just don't!" Jokowi said on Monday.

 

SHARE