The Race to Vaccinate: Will Indonesia Prevail in the Indo-Pacific?

By Alisha Sulisto

Challenges lie ahead in Indonesia’s race to its vaccination target

When President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo kicked off Indonesia’s vaccination program with his first dose of the CoronaVac vaccine on 13 January, he proclaimed the ambitious target of vaccinating 181.5 million (or 67 percent of) Indonesians by December 2021.

Unlike other Southeast Asian nations, of which some are experiencing third waves of infections, Indonesia is in a precarious position of being in a “perpetual first wave” whereby infections continue to rise with no decline in daily reported cases. Milestones such as a consistent two-week drop in cases, fewer than four daily new cases per 100,000 people per day and, most importantly, a positive rate below five percent, were never achieved. Moreover, Indonesia is now in the midst of surge in infections after the mass exodus brought about by the annual Eid Al-Fitr holidays.

These factors all contribute to a greater sense of urgency for Indonesia to achieve its vaccination target. Although both the public health and economic consequences of the pandemic have hit Indonesia hard, it is also one of the most advanced nations in the region in both securing supply and vaccinating its population. The question, therefore, is whether Indonesia’s early efforts to secure its vaccine supply will propel Indonesia’s vaccination program – and, ultimately, its economic recovery – ahead of regional peers.

Comparing Indonesia to its regional neighbours

As of 10 May 2021, Indonesia sits third in Southeast Asia for vaccinating its population, at 4.9 percent. By percentage, Singapore and Cambodia lead the way, having vaccinated 30.7 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively. However, Indonesia’s significantly larger population means that the country has the region’s highest total vaccinations, with 13.7 million people having already received their first dose.

Indonesia attempted to secure early supply of COVID-19 vaccines since various vaccine developments were still in nascent stages; the government even went so far as to allow Sinovac to conduct clinical trials of the CoronaVac vaccine in West Java to gain early access. However, Indonesia still has to obtain a total of 426.8 million doses of vaccines to achieve its goal of herd immunity by March 2022, and most of these cannot be supplied by Sinovac alone.

By contrast, regional peers such as Malaysia and the Philippines have secured supplies of vaccines with higher efficacies – Malaysia with 12.8 million doses of Pfizer vaccines, and the Philippines with 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca. Although Indonesia’s vaccine supply is much further along than its regional counterparts having secured 259 million doses from various sources, the country still only has 61 percent of its total required supply. What’s more, challenges such as the ability to secure further supply, the speed of vaccinations, logistics and misinformation continue to plague Indonesia’s vaccination program.

The uphill battle presented by these challenges suggests that the government will need to resort to more comprehensive policy approaches to tackle the pandemic that do not solely rely on a vaccination program. If Indonesia fails to address these structural challenges, it may take up to ten years to reach its vaccination goal.

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