Young people first: Indonesia’s COVID vaccine strategy questioned

 – In the UK, the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside trial conditions was a 90-year-old pensioner. In Canada, the first recipient was only marginally younger at 89. In Germany, a 101-year-old nursing home resident was first in line.

But in Indonesia, the country worst affected by the virus in Southeast Asia with 836,718 confirmed cases and 24,343 deaths, the government has chosen an unorthodox vaccination strategy.

In the first phase that begins on Wednesday and continues until the end of March, 1.3 million healthcare workers and a further 17.4 million workers from the public service – police, soldiers, teachers and bureaucrats – will receive free jabs of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech. After that, it will be working adults.

“Indonesia is targeting the productive age at 18 to 59 years instead of elderly people because we have not completed the stage three clinical trials for people this age range with the Sinovac vaccine,” Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Nadia Wikeko told Al Jazeera. “We are still waiting for the BPOM (Indonesia’s agency for drug and food control) review to see if the vaccine can be used safely for people over 60.”

Many citizens support the strategy.

“Because older people in Indonesia mostly stay at home, the chance of being infected is lower than that of people of working age,” said Putu, a 56-year-old Balinese woman who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. “So, if younger people get vaccinated first, they can visit older people safely.”We know that older people who have already been vaccinated in China and the Middle East have responded as well to the vaccines as younger people,” said Kim Mulholland, a professor of vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who is based at the University of Melbourne. “So the argument that older people should not be vaccinated because they have not been included in trials in Indonesia is not valid.”

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