By Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian doctors have suffered one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world, but that hasn’t stopped some from voicing concerns about the vaccination campaign.
Nearly 1.5 million health workers are the first to be vaccinated in the world’s fourth most populous country after it became the first outside of China to start mass vaccinations with CoronaVac from Chinese company Sinovac Biotech.
“I am not rejecting the vaccines, I am rejecting the Sinovac vaccines,” said Yusdeny Lanasakti, a doctor from East Java who is concerned about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
The vaccine was 50.4% effective in a Brazilian trial, researchers said Tuesday. Indonesia approved it for emergency use based on provisional data showing 65.3% efficiency. Turkish researchers provided a provisional figure of 91.25%.
Sinovac did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bambang Heriyanto, secretary general of Bio Farma, the Indonesian company involved in the trials, said Brazilian data still exceeded the World Health Organization benchmark by 50%.
The Indonesian Medical Association, which says at least 259 Indonesian doctors died of COVID-19 on Saturday, is also promoting the use of the vaccine in the country of 270 million people.
“We could reduce the high number of deaths among doctors and medical personnel,” said its chief, Daeng M. Faqih.
Indonesian doctor deaths account for more than a third of the 736 such deaths in India, but India has more than five times as many people, with six times more deaths from the virus than the 24,434 recorded in Indonesia out of 846 765 infections.
Dominicus Husada, a pediatrician from East Java, told Reuters he was ready for the vaccination, but added: “There are a few aspects that have not been answered, such as the duration of immunity and the way it decreases over time. “
Doctors wanted more information to allay concerns, said Tri Maharani, another doctor from East Java, who has already had COVID-19 and will therefore not receive the vaccine.
Dicky Budiman, epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, added: “If there is any doubt among medical professionals, it means that there are fundamental problems.”
These may include a strategy that is not optimal, or information provided by the government that is not sufficient for professionals, especially regarding the benefits and risks, he added.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior health ministry official, said there would be no penalties for doctors who refused vaccination, but urged medical staff not to be wary.
Most nurses are ready for vaccination, said Harif Fadhillah, who heads the Indonesian Nurses Association.
Vaccine skepticism is an added challenge for Indonesia in its plan to vaccinate more than 180 million people living on thousands of islands over the next 15 months.
A December poll showed that only 37% of Indonesians were ready to be vaccinated while 40% would consider it and 17% would refuse.
Sinovac is Indonesia’s largest vaccine supplier, but it has also obtained doses from AstraZeneca and some from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, which has been shown to be over 95% effective.
In an attempt to boost participation in the campaign, President Joko Widodo received the Sinovac vaccine on Wednesday.
But Agnes Christie Supangkat, a doctor in the capital Jakarta, said she was not convinced and would not get the shot.
“It appears that the crackdown on the pandemic is rushed, but only a few tests have been carried out,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Abhirup Roy in New Delhi; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Clarence Fernandez)
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