Young people in Indonesia get Covid vaccines first in an unusual distribution

Source: Indonesian Presidential Palace / AFP / Getty Images

Indonesia plans to vaccinate its young population of working age against the coronavirus earlier than the elderly, unlike much of the world which is planning to put its vulnerable elderly people first.

The first Southeast Asian country to receive delivery of Covid-19 vaccines will focus on inoculating those between 18 and 59 years of age, starting with those working at the forefront of the pandemic such as healthcare workers, police and military. Last week, the UK started the western world’s first vaccination program with a 91-year-old woman, in line with most other countries.

The United States also started theirs vaccination program with the elderly this week, following the advice of its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health care Nursing home workers and residents should first receive the shots followed by those with pre-existing medical conditions.

As the death toll from the pandemic continues to rise, governments are grappling with the question of who should receive first the many vaccines that companies are quickly approving. Although Indonesia’s strategy is currently distinct, it could signal how other developing nations might consider launching their own given their struggle to procure enough doses to cover their populations.

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“Our focus is herd immunity,” said Amin Soebandrio, director of the Eijkman Institute of Molecular Biology in Jakarta. “With the most active and exposed population group – those aged 18 to 59 – vaccinated, they form a fortress to protect other groups. It is less effective when we use our limited number of vaccines on the elderly when they are less exposed. “

Immunization of workers

Indonesia is targeting people who are most mobile due to their jobs, as well as regions with the highest number of coronavirus cases, as it focuses on using the vaccine as a tool to curb the spread of infections.

Healthcare professionals on the islands of Java and Bali, representing over 60% of confirmed cases, will receive 1.2 million doses of Vaccine Sinovac Biotech Ltd. arrived on 6 December. This will be followed by frontline workers in the rest of the country.

A launch date will be set when the country’s drug regulator gives the green light.

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The government has set a target of 246 million doses to meet its herd immunity calculation: the number of vaccines they need to immunize 107 million people, or 67% of their target group 18-59 and only 40% of the entire population. This is considerably lower than generally accepted definition of mass immunity, which includes 60% -72% of the entire population of a country.

That government target will be met with 155.5 million doses ordered from Sinovac and Novavax Inc., with another 116 million potential orders from Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and the Covax factory. He is also looking to develop his own shots, named Merah Putih after the colors of the nation’s flag, in an effort to complement his offering.

Other experts are cautiously watching Jakarta’s vaccination plan.

Advertisement for the coronavirus vaccine after the first batch arrives from China

An advertisement for coronavirus testing in Bandung, West Java on December 10.

Photographer: Dimas Ardian / Bloomberg

“Indonesia has a young population, so this may have influenced their thinking, but I think vaccinating older people makes sense,” said Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales. “In the end, however, with a limited supply of vaccines, the difference between age-based strategies isn’t great.”

Difficult choices