Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has decided that the Covid-19 vaccine would be free of charge for all Indonesians, amending the government's earlier decision to limit the free vaccination program only for healthcare frontline workers and the poor.
"I can say that the Covid-19 vaccine for the public is free. Once again, it's free, there's no charge at all," said Jokowi during a virtual press statement on Wednesday. Indonesia will follow other populous democracies like India, the United States, and Brazil, which have promised free Covid-19 vaccination to their population.
Under the government's vaccination plan, Indonesia aimed to vaccinate 107 million people, or about 67 percent of the country's population between 18 and 59. Vaccine doses to about 32 million people — which later revised to 53 million — would be available for free. The government expected the remaining vaccine targets to pay for their doses of vaccine.
State-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma had expected that a vaccine it produces in partnership with China's Sinovac Biotech would cost Rp 200,000 ($14) a dose. At that price, the vaccine would cost about a day of an average Indonesian's income.
Still, the plan faces severe backlash from the public. An online petition to make the vaccination free initiated by Sulfikar Amir, an Indonesian disaster sociology expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, has garnered more than 8,400 signatures and gone viral on social media in the past week.
Paying for the Covid-19 vaccine is a "commercialization that can thwart Covid-19 vaccination program because there is no guarantee that every Indonesian citizen will and can afford the cost of the vaccine," Sulfikar said in the petition.
A survey conducted by the Health Ministry, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (Nitag), Unicef, and the World Health Organization (WHO) on 115,000 respondents from all 34 provinces across Indonesia in September also revealed that many still unwilling to pay for the vaccine.
"Approximately 65 percent of the respondents expressed their willingness to accept Covid-19 vaccination if provided by the government while about nearly 8 percent said that they would not to take it," the survey report read.
Among those who willing to receive the vaccine, 65 percent were unwilling or undecided to pay. Most of those willing to pay also said they could only set aside Rp 100,000 for the vaccine.
Jokowi said that the public demand had moved him to reverse the government's earlier decision.
"So after receiving a lot of input from the public and after recalculating, recalculating state finances, I can say that the Covid-19 vaccine for the public is free," explained Jokowi.
"I have instructed the finance minister to prioritize and reallocate budget from other ministries for this free vaccination program so that there is no reason for the public not to get vaccines," he said.
The Health Ministry has recommended six vaccines for use in Indonesia, including those produced by Sinovac, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, and Bio Farma. The Health Ministry also determined the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry would be the sole entity responsible for procuring the vaccine from abroad.