Free Vaccines, Then What?
The government decided to dole out free Covid-19 vaccines for all. The need arises to watch out for speculators and tighter regard towards health protocols.
AFTER much angst between putting the Covid-19 vaccine up for sale and making it available for free, the government finally took the praiseworthy step: the vaccine will be doled out pro deo. Indeed, that is how it should be: the government is responsible for the safety of its citizens and should give out vaccines as mandated by the law proclaiming the protection of the health of the citizenry.
Obviously to make good the worthy intention entails a huge amount of preparation. Most important is making sure the funds are available. Money should be made available not only for the vaccine itself, but for stocking up on swab test paraphernalia to ascertain the people being vaccinated are virus-free. Assuming 70 percent of the Indonesian population has to each be vaccinated twice to ensure an appropriate immunity build up, the country is looking at a need for 378 million packs of vaccines, plus swab test equipment during the entire vaccination period.
The next task would be creating the vaccination priority list. So far, the government has said it would prioritize the elderly, health workers, and officers of the police force and the military. The problem is, the only vaccine available in large quantities is the Sinovac brand from China. There has been no definitive statement on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for the elderly. In the third phase of clinical trials—one was conducted in Bandung— Sinovac volunteers were selected from the 18 to 59 age group.
The issue of efficacy is the next matter. To date, the efficacy of Sinovac is yet unknown. Other producers have claimed their vaccines to be effective. Pfizer and Moderna have efficacy of 95 percent, AstraZeneca 70 percent. The Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) has to wait for assurance of a drug’s efficacy rate before it can issue a license. The lower the efficacy, the more people need to be vaccinated—something that would inflate the budget needed.
With differing efficacy rates, the issue of who gets which vaccine brand is another potential problem. Currently a huge amount of the vaccine from China has been purchased. Vaccines of the other brands in general are only at the commitment stage. Therefore, for Indonesia, the Sinovac brand will be the first available and the most used. The government has to create a mechanism so recipients of vaccinations do not fight over the more effective brands.
Caution is needed against the appearance of speculators. Now the opportunity for them to grab huge profits has been impeded by the free vaccine policy, they could start pushing up the prices of the vaccines with the higher efficacies. Moreover, a sterner eye should be kept on mischievous officials and bureaucrats seeking to sell the opportunity to making available the better vaccines to the highest bidders.
It is also important to raise the awareness that the vaccine is not the sole solution to ward off Covid-19. Epidemiologists have reminded us that the effectiveness of the vaccines have a time limit. Haphazard distribution can make it difficult to achieve herd immunity. In other words, the program for wearing masks, keeping distances, and washing one’s hands cannot be set aside. Availability of vaccines does not annul government’s responsibility to conduct mass tests, track down people, and treating those infected. Laxity on the government’s side and the crowds with the arrival of the vaccines can create a situation where the pandemic will continue unabated.