Indonesia pledges free COVID-19 vaccines, with president first in line

JAKARTA – Indonesia will provide free coronavirus vaccines to its citizens when the world’s fourth most populous nation starts its inoculation programme, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday, adding he would get the first shot to reassure people on safety.

The sprawling, developing country received its first shipment of vaccines, 1.2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech in early December, but is awaiting emergency use authorisation from its food and drug agency.

Another 1.8 million doses are due in January with authorities saying that healthcare workers in Java and Bali, and people aged between 18 and 56 deemed most at risk given their high mobility, would be prioritised.

“After receiving many people’s suggestions and after recalculating state financial calculations, I can say that COVID-19 vaccines for citizens will be free,” the president said in a video statement from Jakarta’s state palace.

The decision comes as the country of 270 million faces an escalating coronavirus outbreak and also after social media campaigns urging authorities to provide vaccines free of charge.

The president, widely known as Jokowi, said he had instructed the finance minister to reallocate spending for the programme.

Amid concerns over vaccine safety and whether shots would be halal, an issue for many in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the president said he would be the first recipient.

“This to provide assurance and trust to people that the vaccine is safe,” he said.

He did not specify which vaccine he would receive but a phase III trial of Sinovac’s CoronaVac is being conducted in Indonesia but the results are yet to be released.

Indonesia stocks rallied on Wednesday with Hariyanto Wijaya, an analyst at Mirae Asset Sekuritas Indonesia, attributing the 1.8% rise in the main index to positive sentiment after the vaccine announcement.

Ten months after officially recording its first cases, Indonesia has more than 629,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 19,000 deaths, the highest tallies in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is looking to secure 246.6 million vaccine doses and has also been in negotiations with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and global vaccine programme COVAX.

– (Reuters)

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