JAKARTA: Indonesia has started inoculating all health workers who have received two doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine with a Moderna shot to boost their immunity after losing nearly 500 doctors to the pandemic.
“We have started to administer booster jabs using Moderna for more than 50 medical professors at the University of Indonesia’s school of medicine,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told reporters.
“They have had the Sinovac vaccine, and they are now receiving Moderna. They were very confident to receive the booster,” he added.
Indonesia has lost 491 doctors since March last year, data from the Indonesian Medical Association’s mitigation team showed.
On Saturday, the Southeast Asian nation of 270.2 million registered 51,952 new cases and 1,092 deaths after replacing India as the new center of the pandemic in Asia in recent weeks.
The coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Pandjaitan, who leads the Java-Bali lockdown imposed on July 3, said the numbers would continue to rise and that the government had prepared for a worst-case scenario, should the daily caseload reach 60,000 per day.
“We are evaluating whether we need to extend the emergency restrictions,” Pandjaitan said at a press conference on Saturday. The partial lockdown in Java and Bali will end on Tuesday.
He added that while the government continues to add more beds, it is only a temporary measure and the permanent solution would be to “strictly adhere to the health protocols and accelerate the vaccination program to reach herd immunity.”
“If we are all consistent, I think our situation will be better by the end of July,” he said.
Indonesia modified its vaccine regime, which was also marked by the government’s flip-flop policy on a private vaccination scheme, as it grapples with a steep increase in daily infections, plagued with the highly transmissible delta variant.
Initially meant to be a free inoculation program for employees of private companies, it later became a retail scheme for the public at $60 for two shots of Sinopharm vaccines.
The controversial retail scheme was put on hold shortly after it was announced last weekend and was eventually scrapped on Friday following criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO), civilians and experts who denounced the move as a profit-seeking venture amid the pandemic.
On Monday, in a press briefing in Geneva, Ann Lindstrand, the unit head for WHO’s Essential Programme of Immunization, said that the important thing is for everyone to have the right of access to vaccines without any financial issues.
“To have the most possible impact, it is important that every citizen has the equal possibility to get access and any payment could pose an ethical and access issue and particularly during a pandemic when we need the coverage and the vaccines to reach all of the most vulnerable,” Lindstrand said.
The Indonesian government’s U-turn followed a surge in demand for vaccines as the public rushed to get inoculated amid a scarcity of jabs.
While many struggled to book a slot online, long queues formed at vaccination centers across the archipelago, with some people returning home without being vaccinated as the centers ran out of stock.
On Friday, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said that President Joko Widodo had decided to cancel the retail scheme for the public, which was to be rolled out by state-owned pharmaceutical firm PT Kimia Farma on July 12.
“After receiving inputs and responses from members of the public, the president has firmly ordered the cancelation of the self-paid vaccination program,” Anung said in a statement.
Anung added that the national vaccination scheme would remain free for recipients either through the government program or with participating companies paying their employees to get jabbed in the scheme, also known as Gotong Royong.