Problems in the Vaccine Program
Leaks of Covid-19 vaccines disrupted the program to immunize the most vulnerable people. Rather than holding celebrations, the government must improve the data for targeting vaccinations.
THERE is one thing it is important to realize from the outset regarding the Covid-19 vaccination program: the vaccine is still in short supply. While the number of suppliers and production capacity is still small, every country around the world needs it. As it is a public commodity with limited supplies, the government must guarantee that the vaccine is provided to the most vulnerable people as the top priority.
The government has so far obtained 28 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China in four stages since December last year. This is only a fraction of the total requirement of 426 million doses, based on the calculation that more than 181 million people need two injections. Although the government has commitments for allocations from at least four global vaccine providers, it is still possible that the supply of vaccines for Indonesia will fall behind schedule.
We know that in principle, the aim of the vaccine is to reduce both the death rate and the number of infections. It is hoped that with a reduction in both of these indicators, the pandemic will gradually end. The death rate and number of new infections will be reduced if the vaccine is given first to those who are most vulnerable—as a result of their work such as health care staff, or because they have other health conditions, are old or live in a region where the disease is spreading rapidly. Prioritizing is even more important because of the limited availability of the vaccine.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin has divided those to receive the vaccine into five categories. Top priority is health care workers. They are followed by the elderly and public service workers, namely members of the Indonesian Military and the National Police, law enforcement officials and other public sector employees. The next group is people who are vulnerable for geospatial, social and economic reasons. The final category is all other citizens.
If it is consistent in applying this principle, after the 1.48 million health care workers have been vaccinated, the government should give top priority to the elderly. This means that the 21.5 million people over 60 in Indonesia must receive the vaccine before the 16.9 million public sector employees. Older people in this country are much more vulnerable than workers such as market traders, who have started to receive their vaccines. But the fact is that on the ground, these two groups are being vaccinated at the same time. It appears that President Joko Widodo wants economic actors to be immunized as soon as possible in order to get their businesses moving.
This is also why the government is providing the opportunity for private sector led vaccination program. It is claimed that the “social contribution” program from companies will accelerate the attainment of herd immunity. The government says that this program is noncommercial and can only be implemented by companies for their own employees and their families. Furthermore, they are not allowed to use the types of vaccine that have been purchased by the government. However, the main aim is still clear: vaccination to speed up economic recovery.
Because of the duality of this mission, it is not surprising that there have been reports of vaccine leaks in various locations. There are those who have received the vaccination despite not being in vulnerable categories. They push their way to the front of the line using various methods including making use of political connections. The ministry of health has admitted that the leakage rate is around five percent.
Shortcomings in the data collected by government institutions have made matters worse. The ministry of health says that data on people who should receive vaccines is inaccurate. It is this confusion over the data that has been taken advantage of by those pushing to the front of the vaccine line. If this is allowed to continue, the risk that vulnerable people will fall ill because of not being vaccinated on time will increase significantly.
Rather than treating each phase of the vaccination as a political celebration, public officials should concentrate on finding solutions to these problems. The issues that have arisen as a result of inaccurate data are starting to pile up. These include errors in the allocation of vaccines for different regions and misclassifications of people that should be targeted for vaccination.
Political celebrations of vaccinations are also inappropriate because there is no final data on clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines. In other words, we do not know how long these vaccines will give immunity. As a result, the government must not give false hope by seeming to approve the narrative that vaccines are a panacea that will stop the coronavirus. The best way to control the pandemic is based on adaptation to a new normal while increasing tracing, testing and treatment.