12/10/2020, 16.06
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Uncertainty over the effectiveness and distribution of Chinese vaccine

by Mathias Hariyadi

Indonesia’s Bio Farma says the vaccine is 97 per cent effective. But Sinovac Biotech says it still has no data on effectiveness. The company is vetting phase 3 results in China, Indonesia and Brazil. In a country of 17,000, 6,000 inhabited, distributing the vaccine is a logistical challenge. At least 120 million Indonesians will receive the vaccine for free. It will be distributed first in Java and Bali, the two islands most affected by COVID-19.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – In Indonesia, the urgent need to fight COVID-19 is facing certain uncertainties, most notably the logistical problem of distributing the vaccine across the country’s 6,000 inhabited islands (out of a total of 17,000) and the doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

A million doses of the vaccine have already been delivered to Indonesia. Here, the Chinese vaccine is manufactured by state-owned PT Bio Farma at its plant in Bandung (West Java). The company has already received enough material to make 45 million doses of Sinovac.

However, the two companies have failed so far to reach the same evaluation of the vaccine’s effectiveness. Bio Farma claims the vaccine is 97 per cent effective whilst Sinovac has not yet made public the vaccine’s level of effectiveness.

What is known is that vaccine generated antibodies in 97 per cent of recipients. For the Chinese company, that 97 per cent refers to the vaccine’s seroconversion, which is different from its effectiveness. The latter measures how much a vaccine actually protects people against a virus, COVID-19 in this case.

Sinovac Biotech has also admitted that its laboratories in China – together with partners in Indonesia and Brazil – are still analysing the data from phase III and only after this, will they be able to get precise data on effectiveness. This means no reliable data will be available before January.

Unlike vaccines manufacturers in the West, no Chinese company has so far made public the effectiveness of their phase 3 vaccines. This makes it hard to compare vaccines and estimate how soon they will be able to receive approval for mass vaccination.

Despite this, in view of the emergency, the Chinese vaccine has already been distributed to hundreds of thousands of people. In addition to the million doses received in early December, Indonesia expects another 1.8 million Sinovac doses in January 2021.

Together with their Chinese partners, Indonesian health authorities have ordered three other types of vaccines, including one by AstraZeneca, which is also in the third testing phase.

At present, Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus cases in all of Southeast Asia with more than half a million positive cases and more than 17,000 deaths.

In a country of 273.5 million people, the government plans to provide the vaccine to 120 million Indonesians for free, at a cost estimated to represent 0.5 to 1 per cent of GDP through 2022.

Some 3,000,000 doses will first go to front-line workers: health personnel, police, military, civil servants. After that come people in working age (18-59 years), who do not have other diseases.

All this will require at least 246 million doses. But the biggest challenge will be how to deliver the vaccine to more than 6,000 inhabited islands, in many cases, several hours away by boat.

Priority will go to Java and Bali, the two most populous islands, home to more than 60 per cent of the Indonesian population, and two of the places most affected by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) is expected to declare the vaccine “halal”.

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