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Why Indonesia Is Vaccinating Its Working Population First

A man wearing face mask walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Writings on the mural read "Let's fight coronavirus." (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A man wearing face mask walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Writings on the mural read "Let's fight coronavirus." (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Why Indonesia Is Vaccinating its Working Population First
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Indonesia has decided to give COVID-19 vaccinations to working age adults before older citizens.

The plans differ from vaccination programs in countries such as the United States and Britain, which give priority to older individuals who face a higher risk of death from the disease.

Indonesia’s program aims to vaccinate adults 18-59 after health care workers and public servants. The government hopes the program will help the population reach herd immunity” faster and improve the country’s economy.

The Mayo Clinic notes that herd immunity happens when a large percentage of a community, the herd, becomes immune to a disease, making the spread from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected, not just those who are immune.

Why 18-59 year-olds first?

Indonesia plans to begin its program with a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech. Health officials say they do not yet have enough information on the effectiveness of the vaccine on older people. Trials carried out in Indonesia have involved people aged 18-59.

Health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi told the Reuters news agency the government will wait for guidance from the country’s drug regulators before deciding on vaccination plans for older individuals.

Britain and the United States began their vaccination programs with a shot developed by Pfizer-BioNTech that showed a high rate of effectiveness in people of all ages.

So far, Indonesia has only been able to secure the Sinovac vaccine. The Southeast Asian nation has a deal to receive 125.5 million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot. A first shipment of 3 million doses has already arrived.

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are not expected to arrive in Indonesia until the third quarter. A vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is expected to be released in the second quarter.

Peter Collignon is a professor of infectious diseases at Australian National University. He said that while Indonesia’s vaccination plans could slow spread of the disease, it may not affect death rates.

But Collignon noted that because Indonesia’s vaccination program is different from the U.S. and Europe, it can be very valuable.

“Because it will tell us (whether) you’ll see a more dramatic effect in Indonesia than Europe or the U.S. because of the strategy they’re doing,” he said.

Professor Dale Fisher is with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. He told Reuters he understands the reasoning behind Indonesia’s plans. “Younger working adults are generally more active, more social and travel more so this strategy should decrease community transmission faster than vaccinating older individuals,” Fisher said.

Can it lead to quick herd immunity?

Government officials hope the strategy of vaccinating more socially and economically active individuals can quickly lead to herd immunity.

Indonesia’s health minister has said the country needs to vaccinate 181.5 million people, or about 67 percent of its population, to reach herd immunity. The government believes this would require almost 427 million doses of vaccines.

Some experts question whether the plan could quickly lead to herd immunity. They say more research is needed to find out whether or not vaccinated people can pass on the virus.

“There could be the risk of people still capable of spreading the disease to the others,” said Hasbullah Thabrany, chief of Indonesia’s Health Economic Association.

Will it help economic recovery?

Economists have argued that a successful vaccination program covering around 100 million people will help energize the economy. They say this is because vaccinated individuals are more likely to return to economic activity such as spending and production.

Faisal Rachman, an economist with Bank Mandiri, said the 18-59 age group has consumption needs that are higher than other groups. Such individuals, he said, could help fuel a faster economic recovery because household consumption makes up more than 50 percent of Indonesia’s economy.

The pandemic pushed Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, into its first recession in more than two decades.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

priority – n. something that is very important and that must be dealt with before other things

immune – adj. having special protection from something; of or relating to the body's immune system

regulator – n. a person or organization that creates rules for a system or government

dose – n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time

dramatic – adj. very sudden or noticeable

strategy – n. a plan used to achieve a particular goal

capable – adj. able to do things effectively and achieve results

consumption – n. the amount of something that someone uses, eats or drinks