Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has been struggling to contain its mounting virus cases. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2020

Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

  • The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday
  • The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines

JAKARTA: Indonesia is stepping up efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine by launching human trials of a potentially effective drug amid criticism of its lacklustre handling of the pandemic and concerns about its plummeting economy.

The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday and is being conducted by the Padjadjaran University School of Medicine at six locations in Bandung, West Java province, where the university and the state-owned pharma company are based.

“The first day of the trial went well, with 20 volunteers in each of the six locations injected with the potential vaccine. We have no complaints so far, and we are preparing the second injection batch on Aug 14,” Iwan Setiawan, a spokesman for Bio Farma, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He added that the six-month trial would require the participation of 1,620 volunteers who were “in good health and had not tested positive” for the disease.

Ridwan Kamil, governor of West Java, Indonesia’s most populated province, is among the volunteers who have signed up for the trial.

The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines.

“The potential vaccine had gone through three trials; the pre-clinical, the clinical trial first phase and the second phase in China,” Bio Farma CEO Honesti Basyir said in a statement.

According to Basyir, Sinovac is one of the few institutions that have progressed to the third phase of the clinical trial from among hundreds of research institutions around the world that are developing the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Oxford Business Group’s COVID-10 Economic Impact Assessment, there are more than 150 different vaccines that international researchers are working on. However, only 26 have reached the human trial stage so far.

Once the trials are concluded, Bio Farma will register the vaccine with the Food and Drug Supervisory Agency so that it can begin mass-production of the drug.

“We have prepared a production facility for the COVID-19 vaccine with a maximum capacity of 100 million dosages, and by the end of December this year we will have an increased production capacity to produce an additional 150 million dosages,” Basyir said.

President Joko Widodo oversaw the first injections to the batch of volunteers in one of the six locations and also toured Bio Farma’s production facility. 

“We hope this clinical trial would conclude in six months and so we can start producing the vaccine in January and vaccinate our people soon,” Widodo said.

State-Owned Enterprise Minister Erick Thohir, who is also the head of the COVID-19 mitigation and national economic recovery committee, said that Bio Farma was a well-established vaccine producer whose products were halal-compliant and used in 150 countries, including in the Middle East.

The collaboration with Sinovac is one of three vaccine-development projects that Indonesia is engaging in with foreign parties as it grapples with a surge in infections. At the same time, social restrictions and economic activities were eased. The other two projects are with South Korea’s Genexine and Norway’s Coalition for Epidemic, Preparedness and Innovation.

As of Wednesday, Indonesia had reported 130,718 infections with 1,942 new cases, 85,798 recoveries and 5,903 deaths, although experts suggest that the numbers could be higher due to the country’s low testing capacity.

Cases also surged in the capital Jakarta with workplaces emerging as the new infection clusters after thousands of employees returned to work recently.


Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

Updated 20 September 2020

Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

  • There have been conflicting reports from lawmakers and residents about number of fatalities
  • Taliban says none of its fighters killed in attack

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry pledged on Sunday to probe “allegations” of at least 12 civilians being killed in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters in the northern Kunduz province a day earlier.
The pledge followed inconsistencies about the number of casualties, with the insurgent group saying that none of its men had died in the attack.
“The Taliban were the target, and 30 of them were killed. Initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians, but we are probing reports by locals about civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces take allegations of civilian harm seriously, and these claims will be investigated,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News.
He added that the ministry would “share any details” about civilian casualties “once the probe is over.”
If confirmed, Saturday’s airstrike in the Khan Abad district, which lies nearly 350 km from Kabul and is mostly controlled by the Taliban, will be the latest in a series of air raids killing civilians in several parts of the country.
It follows a week after crucial intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban officials began in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to end the protracted war and plan a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts from civilians and lawmakers in the area about the incident, with two provincial council members, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani and Sayed Yusuf, saying that at least 12 civilians had died in Saturday’s air raid.
“Since the area is under Taliban’s control, we have not been able to find out exactly how the civilians were killed,” Rabbani told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nilofar Jalali, a legislator from Kunduz, offered another version of the attack, which she said “hit a residential area before sunrise when people were still in their bed.”
“Children and women are among the dead, and 18 civilians have also been wounded. I informed the defense minister about it; he said he will check and get back to me, but has not,” she told Arab News. However, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the reports in a statement on Sunday, saying that “no fighter of the group was killed,” before placing the number of civilian deaths at 23.
Kunduz and other parts of the country have witnessed an escalation in attacks by both the government and the Taliban in recent weeks, despite their negotiators participating in the Qatar talks which are part of a US-facilitated process following 19 years of conflict in the country — Washington’s longest war in history.
The Qatar discussions are based on a historic accord signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year which, among other things, paves the way for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country by next spring, in return for a pledge from the Taliban not to allow use Afghanistan to harm any country’s, including US, interests.
Kabul’s negotiators in Qatar are pushing the Taliban to declare a cease-fire, while the Taliban say it can be included in the agenda and that both sides must first ascertain “the real cause” of the war.
Some analysts believe that while delegates of the parties are struggling to agree over the mechanism and agenda of the talks in Qatar, their fighters in Afghanistan are “focusing on military tactics to capture grounds” so that they can use it as a “bargaining chip” at the negotiation table.
“Both sides think that if they have more territory then they can argue their case from a position of strength during the talks and use it as leverage,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst and a former university teacher, told Arab News.
“The sides have not yet agreed on the mechanism of the talks despite the Qatar talks, which began on the 12th of September. So, this is an indication that things are not going the right way politically, and both sides are trying their luck on the battlefield here.”