JAKARTA - Health workers at a clinic in Jakarta on Thurday urged Indonesians to get vaccinated as a nationwide rollout of a COVID-19 inoculation programme started in the world's fourth most populous country.
Indonesia faces one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia and in recent days has reported a record case load, with total infections now at 869,000 and deaths topping 25,000.
President Joko Widodo on Wednesday received a first vaccine shot supplied by China's Sinovac Bitoech to kick off a drive to inoculate two-thirds of the country's 270 million population.
"It's better to be vaccinated because it can help us, the health workers," said Tri Ardhyanti, a pharmacist at the Cilandak Public Health Centre in Jakarta, where more than 60 health workers were inoculated on day one.
Scepticism over vaccines is an additional challenge for Indonesia in its plan to inoculate more than 180 million people over the next 15 months.
A December poll showed just 37% of Indonesians were willing to be vaccinated while 40% would consider it and 17% refuse.
Luky Satria, a 49-year-old obstetrician, said vaccines would only be effective if the public accepted them.
"We are exhausted and tired of COVID-19 which doesn't seem to be ending. The vaccination programme has to be widened - it cannot be some people accept it, some reject it," said Luky.
Indonesia's nearly 1.5 million medical workers will be among the first to be immunized after it became the first country outside China to start mass vaccinations with Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine.
Unlike many countries, Indonesia intends to inoculate its working population first, rather than the elderly, partly because it does not have enough data from clinical trials on CoronaVac’s efficacy on older people.
Indonesia has said its trials showed CoronaVac has an efficacy rate of 65.3%, but researchers in Brazil said it was only 50.4% effective.
Brazil has run the biggest trials so far with around 13,000 participants, but it faces more rampant infections than in other trial sites and a focus on medical workers could have led to more mild infections in trials, thus lowering efficacy data, a person familiar with the matter said.
Sinovac said its trial designs are not identical between countries, but the results are sufficient to prove CoronaVac is safe and effective.
(Writing by Angie Teo Editing by Ed Davies and Angus MacSwan) ((email@example.com;))