Indonesia Greenlights China’s Sinovac Vaccine for Emergency Use

Tia Asmara, Basilio Sepe and Luis Liwanag
Jakarta and Manila
Indonesia Greenlights China’s Sinovac Vaccine for Emergency Use A health worker gives an injection during a coronavirus vaccine drill in Bali, Indonesia, Jan. 11, 2021.

Indonesia on Monday authorized emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac, becoming the first country outside China to approve the drug, ahead of a mass inoculation drive this week.

Meanwhile, the Philippines announced its first purchases of coronavirus vaccines, and health officials in Bangladesh confirmed the country’s first delivery of a vaccine for later this month.

Preliminary results of late-stage trials in Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey showed that the vaccine – known as CoronaVac – had efficacy rates of 65.3 percent, 78 percent, and 91.25 percent, respectively, according to Indonesia’s food and drug regulator, BPOM.

“Taking into account the emergency situation and responding to the need to act swiftly to deal with COVID-19, BPOM decided to issue an emergency-use authorization,” agency director Penny Lukito told a press conference.

The World Health Organization has set a minimum target of 50 percent efficacy for vaccines tested against the coronavirus.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema, the country’s semi-official authority on Islam, last week declared that the vaccine developed by Sinovac, a state-owned firm, was halal – meaning it does not contain ingredients forbidden for Muslims, such as pork.

Indonesia’s, the world’s largest Islamic-majority country, leads all nations in East Asia in COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. As of Monday, the cumulative number of cases had reached nearly 836,800, resulting in 24,343 deaths. 

Indonesia is set to begin its mass vaccination drive on Wednesday. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will be the first person to receive a shot, in a bid to assure the public that the vaccine is safe, the nation’s health chief said last week. The vaccine will be available to all Indonesians at no cost to them, officials said.

Indonesia so far has received 3 million doses of CoronaVac – with 15 million doses in bulk scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday – for production by state-owned vaccine company Bio Farma, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said Monday.

Indonesia also expects to receive between 54 million and 108 million vaccine doses for free from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), he said.

Vaccines developed by other companies are expected in the coming months.

The chairman of the Technical Advisory Association for Immunization in Indonesia (ITAGI), Sri Rejeki, said the organization would monitor the vaccination campaign for the next six months.

“We believe that CoronaVac is safe and useful to alleviate the pandemic in Indonesia,” she told reporters.

Filipino Catholics join an event in downtown Manila to celebrate the Black Nazarene, a statue of Jesus Christ, Jan. 9, 2021. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

The Indonesian government’s announcement that it had cleared Sinovac’s vaccine for emergency use came on the eve of a scheduled visit to the country by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as part of a four-nation Southeast Asia trip.

While in Myanmar on Monday, China’s top diplomat promised vaccines against the coronavirus during talks with government officials there, Reuters reported.

Wang will also visit Brunei and the Philippines – which ranks after Indonesia as the second most Covid-affected country in East Asia.

On Monday, the Philippine government announced that it had clinched its first deal to procure coronavirus vaccine, with the purchase 25 million doses of the vaccine made by Sinovac.

The first shipment of only 50,000 doses of the vaccine “will arrive in the Philippines next month,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual news briefing.

“But at least, we will start vaccinating,” he said, adding that by June and July, Pfizer and AstraZeneca were also expected to ship in additional supplies of vaccines.

Roque urged the public not to remain complacent about the pandemic.

He noted that despite repeated health warnings, thousands of Catholics had gathered in Manila’s Quiapo district on Saturday for Masses honoring the Black Nazarene, a statue of Jesus Christ believed to have healing powers.

Roque conceded that “at some point, social distancing was ignored” during the religious event.

On Sunday, Carlito Galvez Jr., the Philippine official who heads up the government’s pandemic task force, announced that it had signed a deal to secure 30 million doses of the Covavax vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Novavax.

Those doses would be available starting in the third quarter of 2021, Galvez said in a statement.

Bangladeshi vaccine efforts

In Bangladesh, health officials said Monday they hoped to begin coronavirus vaccinations in early February, as they announced that 5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would arrive later this month.

“Beximco Pharmaceuticals has informed us that they can bring 50 lakh [five million] doses of vaccine from India between Jan. 21 and 25,” Abul Bashar Mohammed Khurshid, who heads the Directorate of Health Services, told a news conference, referring to a Bangladeshi drug maker.

Last month, Bangladesh’s health directorate signed a deal with the Serum Institute and Beximco to import 30 million doses of the vaccine. On Jan. 7, Bangladesh’s government cleared the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use.

Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, a former director of Bangladesh’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), noted that the vaccine had been approved in the U.K.

“According to our rules, we can use vaccines approved by seven developed countries, including the U.K., without trials. So, we do not need any trials of the vaccine,” he said.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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