JAKARTA: Indonesia has temporarily suspended the use and distribution of an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine batch pending sterility and toxicity tests by the Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the Health Ministry said on Sunday.
The ministry announced the move following advice from the National Commission on Post-Immunization Accidents to carry out the tests.
It follows the death of a 22-year-old man in East Jakarta, who suffered from a high fever and eventually died after receiving his first jab earlier this month.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a Health Ministry spokesperson for the national COVID-19 vaccination program, said that the suspension of the batch would not deter the use of other AstraZeneca batches in the jabs program, which began four months ago.
“We continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine because it provides a much greater benefit. The suspension is the government’s precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the vaccine,” Tarmizi said, adding that the test results are expected to be released no later than two weeks.
The commission recommended the drug monitoring agency conduct the tests. Its chairman, Hindra Irawan Satari, said that the commission “did not have enough data to determine” whether the man’s death was related to the vaccine from the suspended batch, which he received a day before his demise.
The batch consisted of 448,480 doses and is part of the 3,852,000 doses Indonesia received from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility’s vaccine distribution scheme on April 26.
The ministry said that the vaccine batch in question had been distributed in the capital city, Jakarta, among the military, and in the North Sulawesi province.
Tonang Dwi Ardyanto, an epidemiologist of the clinical pathologist association PDS PatKlin said while the suspension was necessary, it would slow down the national vaccination progress.
“We hope the test results will come out soon so that the matter is clear,” he told Arab News on Monday.
“We are well aware that there is no vaccine or medicine that is 100 percent safe, but we just have to look for the ones with the least possible risks,” he added.
Indonesia received 6.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were distributed to seven provinces, with Bali and East Java getting a majority of the share.
The Oxford jab is a small fraction compared to more than 68 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine used in the government’s vaccination program.
A study conducted by the Health Ministry from January to March on health workers who received the Sinovac vaccine showed that it is “almost 100 percent effective in protecting them from infections, hospitalization, and death.”
Pandji Dhewantara, the ministry’s lead researcher, said last week that two shots of the Sinovac vaccine “provided 98 percent protection against death” in the 128,290 health workers who were monitored for the study.
Dhewantara added that the vaccine was 94 percent effective in protecting health workers from being infected with COVID-19 and 96 percent effective in preventing them from being hospitalized.
“We can conclude from this study that vaccination is important to reduce the risks of someone being infected by COVID-19,” he added.
A private vaccination scheme, coordinated by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, through which private entities can pay to inoculate their employees and families, will be using China’s Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines, with Russia’s Sputnik expected to be added.
The scheme is expected to commence on Tuesday, with almost 18,000 private entities registered to inoculate about 8.6 million people from labor-intensive manufacturing companies to micro-enterprises with as few as three employees.
Indonesia aims to inoculate 181.5 million people out of its 270 million population, which it expects to complete by the end of the year. But four months into the program, only 8.8 million people have received the second dose of their vaccines, just five percent of the targeted population.