Dthe doctor who administered the injection was visibly nervous. With trembling hands he put the needle into the upper arm of the Indonesian president. Joko Widodo was the first in the Southeast Asian country to get the Coronavac vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech on Wednesday. He wanted to send a signal that the vaccine from China is safe. Recently, there had been confusion about the Chinese vaccine, as different test runs in several countries had come to extremely different results about its effectiveness.
With his commitment, the President gave the go-ahead for one of the largest vaccination campaigns in the world. With a population of 268 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on earth. The government hopes to vaccinate 181.5 million people against the coronavirus and thereby achieve herd immunity. She sees this as the way out of the health and economic crisis. Indonesia is by far the country with the most corona cases in Southeast Asia. On Wednesday, a high of 11,278 new infections was recorded again, the total number of those already infected thus reached more than 858,000.
While there is skepticism in Europe about vaccines from China, Indonesia secured access to Coronavac at an early stage. On Monday, the national drug agency issued emergency approval for the vaccine. Of the three million doses already delivered, 1.2 million were distributed in the provinces at the start of the vaccination. Indonesia is now the first country outside of China to use the vaccine to immunize large sections of the population. Observers fear that in view of the geopolitical power competition, China could secure additional influence in the country with its vaccination diplomacy.
Indonesia is one of the states that are not in direct conflict with China, but that are certainly given headaches by Chinese ambitions for power. For China, the start of the vaccination in Indonesia is therefore a great diplomatic success, which it can now refer to to potential other interested parties in the future. It was no coincidence that Widodo also received Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in his presidential palace on the day of his vaccination.
The economy should be brought back to operating temperature
Another special feature is Indonesia’s strategy of not vaccinating the elderly and particularly vulnerable people, as is the case in most other countries, but rather people of working age between 18 and 59 years. The government is betting that the economy can be brought back to operating temperature more quickly. In addition, there is still not enough data on how safe the vaccine is, especially for older people, and how long they are protected against. At 59, President Widodo was barely qualified for the vaccination.
His doctor Abdul Muthalib later admitted to journalists that he was actually a little excited when he put the injection. In the coming weeks, 1.4 million people from the health and care sector are to be vaccinated, after which it is the turn of the authorities’ employees. The other vaccinations should then be given within 15 months. This is a pretty ambitious plan, if only because of the logistical challenges in the state, which consists of more than 17,000 islands.