Indonesian President Joko Widodo received an injection of a China-made vaccine on live television Wednesday as health officials prepared for a nationwide rollout.
Human studies in Indonesia have shown that the CoronaVac vaccine is safe and 65.3 percent effective. But scientists in Brazil said Tuesday that it had an efficacy rate of just over 50 percent there – far lower than the 78 percent effectiveness rate announced last week.
Mr Joko was the first in Indonesia to receive the vaccination, health officials said because he wanted to reassure the public that it is safe, effective and halal, which means that it is legal under Islamic law.
Behind him when he received his injection was a red sign with white letters on it that said the vaccine was “safe and halal”.
“Covid vaccinations are important for us to break the chain of transmission of this coronavirus and provide health protection to all of us, the people of Indonesia, and accelerate the process of economic recovery,” Joko said after getting his shot.
Indonesia, which on Monday approved the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine, had previously ordered 125.5 million doses from the company and smaller quantities from several others. Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world with 270 million inhabitants, hopes to achieve herd immunity within 15 months by vaccinating two-thirds of the population.
However, there are still questions about the Sinovac vaccine that China administered last year before the human trials were completed.
The company has not yet released any data on the results of its trials. The vaccine efficacy rate measured in Brazil and Indonesia is still well below the 90 percent rates for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved in the US and other countries.
Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said CoronaVac’s relatively low rate of effectiveness should lead Indonesia to look for alternatives. He also questioned the transparency of the various studies and the data published.
“At least Indonesia has a vaccine as a tool to protect its health workers and prevent staff shortages,” he said. “Of course the government should do its best to get other vaccines.”
Indonesia plans to distribute the vaccine to medical personnel, police officers and soldiers first. It has also launched a national advertising campaign to convince the public to get the vaccine, which will be free.
After the vaccination of Mr. Joko in front of the cameras were the army chief, the national police chief and the newly appointed health minister as well as other dignitaries and so-called influencers.
Indonesia has reported nearly 850,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 25,000 deaths, Southeast Asia’s highest scores in both categories.