Jakarta. Indonesia will speed up vaccination drive against Covid-19 after receiving another shipment of half-finished vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech on Sunday to be reproduced by state-owned pharmaceutical firm Bio Farma.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said the half-finished vaccine was equivalent to roughly 20 million doses.
"Within the coming month, we will get an additional 20 million doses from Bio Farma thanks to the latest shipment,” Budi said during a news conference at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Tangerang, Banten, as he was inspecting the cargo.
He said the increased supply will be instrumental in pushing for a much greater number of vaccination among elderly citizens in April and May.
This particular group is getting extra attention ahead of Idulfitri, the most important holiday in the country.
During the Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, Indonesian Muslims visit parents and older relatives or neighbors to ask for forgiveness, more as a tradition than an obligatory religious ritual.
“We will make sure that priority is given to senior citizens in the coming month so that they are more protected with higher immune system when receiving visits,” Budi said.
This year, Idulfitri falls on May 12 but the government has imposed two-week travel restrictions effective from May 6.
It also cancels the week-long holiday for Idulfitri, giving civil servants only three days to observe the religious holiday.
The minister said the fasting month should not slow down vaccination drive in the country with world’s biggest Muslim population.
“The MUI (Indonesian Ulema Council) has issued an edict stating that vaccination doesn’t cancel out fasting, so we will continue with the campaign,” he said.
Budi warned that the country should remain vigilant despite the greater pace in vaccination drive.
“There is currently a sharp hike in newly cases in European countries and also in Asia like India, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. I must remind you all that the ongoing mass vaccination drive should not let our guard down,” Budi said.
More than 10.8 million Indonesians have received at least a shot of Covid-19 vaccine, with nearly 6 million already fully vaccinated, Health Ministry figures show.
Bio Farma has produced 43 million doses of vaccine under license from Sinovac as of last week, the company’s president Honesti Basyir told Beritasatu TV.
Much of Bio Farma-produced vaccine has not been distributed pending lot release by the Drug and Food Supervisory Agency (BPOM), Honesti said.
President Joko Widodo has instructed a million shots of vaccine to be administered every day, but so far the country is nowhere near even a half of the target.
But vaccine shortage is not the only issue hampering the government from adding the pace to vaccination, Honesti said.
“We need to improve cold chain system and increase the number of vaccinators and vaccination sites,” he told host Claudius Boekan.
He was referring to the distribution network that requires the vaciine to be kept in low temperature.