JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has volunteered to be the first person in the country to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
He also said the vaccines will be available to citizens “at no cost” in a video uploaded Wednesday to the State Palace’s YouTube channel (December 16).
The country had received 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech on December 6, and will receive raw materials to produce 15 million doses from the same company later this month.
The CoronaVac vaccine, however, is still in an advanced stage of trials in Indonesia, Brazil, Chile and Turkey. The Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) will only give its stamp of approval on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine when the results of the clinical trial are available.
In a September government survey, about 65 percent of respondents said they were willing to be vaccinated. However, only 35% of those who said they wanted to be vaccinated were willing to pay.
Mr. Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, said in the video: “I will personally become the first recipient (of the vaccine) to build trust among people that the vaccines used are safe.”
READ: Indonesia has 1.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in its possession now. What’s next?
The government had previously planned to offer free vaccines to some 32 million health care workers, military and police personnel, as well as civil servants, while the rest of the people would have to pay to get vaccinated.
Indonesia has a population of over 260 million.
The decision sparked criticism, with some people pointing out that other countries are providing the vaccines for free.
“After receiving input from citizens and after conducting a recalculation regarding the state coffers, I can say that COVID-19 vaccines for citizens will be free. Free and at no cost, “Jokowi said.
“Therefore, I have instructed all cabinet members, ministries, agencies and regional governments to prioritize vaccination in their 2021 budget. I have also instructed the finance minister to prioritize and redistribute other expenses to ensure the availability of these free vaccines so that there will be no reason for people not to get vaccinated. “
BPOM, the food and pharmaceutical agency, said the first vaccine that can be given is when the results of the clinical trial are known by the end of January.
In addition to Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines, Indonesia is also working with US pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer, UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and the global COVAX vaccine program.
Indonesia is one of the worst affected countries in the pandemic with over 600,000 cases and nearly 20,000 deaths.
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