[Updated at 11:54 p.m. on Sunday, Feb 7, 2021, to add vaccination data]
Jakarta. Indonesia will start the Covid-19 vaccination on the people aged 60 or older on Monday after the country's drug supervisory authority cleared the CoronaVac, made by Chinese Sinovac Biotech, for emergency use among the elderly.
Indonesia currently has more than 29 million doses of Sinovac's vaccine in stock. The country has administered more than 784,000 first-dose vaccines to medical workers since Jan 13 and aimed to complete the vaccination on 1.63 million medical workers by the end of this month.
Previously, the Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM) only allowed CoronaVac to vaccinate people aged 18 to 59. As it received more data from phase three clinical trials abroad, the agency was convinced to grant an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine for use on people age 60 and above.
"We are grateful that BPOM has cleared [CoronaVac] for people above 60 years old," Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a virtual press conference on Sunday.
"So, tomorrow at 09:00 a.m., injections for people over 60 years of age will begin," Budi said.
The minister said the government would prioritize the older medical workers who previously could not receive the vaccine nor has not caught Covid-19. "Vaccination for non-medical workers would also run in parallel as we tidy up the data," Budi said.
The earlier specification for CoronaVac dictated Indonesia's vaccination strategy. The country chose to vaccinate its medical workers first, instead of the elderly like other countries. The vaccine's clinical trial results back then were only available for the 10-59 years age group.
BPOM Head Penny K. Lukito said phase I and II clinical trials in China show the vaccine was safe for older patients with no severe side effects.
Still, Penny said the country must approach vaccination for the elderly with extreme caution. People in the age group often came with an existing illness like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
"The screening process is critical before deciding on vaccines for the elderly. Risk management must be carried out in light of possible AEFI [adverse effects following immunization]," she said.
Budi said vaccination on the elderly would mean Indonesia could soon reduce the burden on the country hospitals. Data from the Health Ministry showed on Sunday that six provinces, including Jakarta and North Kalimantan, had their ICU beds filled up to more than 85 percent of capacity, already at an alarming level by the ministry's standard.
On the other hand, it is mostly the elderly who needed ICUs the most when they got Covid-19, which is fatal to them more often than not. Budi said that the elderly only accounted for 10 percent of over 1.1 million people in Indonesia who had been infected by Covid-19 so far. But, 47.3 percent of them did not survive.
"We hope that with the vaccination, we could reduce the [rate of infections] among the most vulnerable group. Therefore, we could reduce the burden on hospitals and the burden on the medical workers," Budi said.
Indonesia reported 10,827 new Covid-19 cases, 163 deaths, and 10,806 recoveries on Sunday. The seven-day average of new cases has been declining in the past week to 11,360 on Sunday, from 12,722 a week ago.