JAKARTA, July 12 — An Indonesian pharmaceutical firm has postponed a plan to sell a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine directly to the public, amid criticism by health experts that such commercial schemes could bypass vulnerable groups in a country that promised free shots to all.
The uproar came as coronavirus cases and deaths from the virus have hit record highs, pushing the healthcare system close to breaking point in parts of densely populated Java island.
State-owned pharmaceutical company Kimia Farma said on Monday it had decided to put the scheme to sell the Sinopharm vaccine on hold to allow more time to explain it to the public.
“For the time being we have postponed it after it generated a lot of interest,” said Novia Valentina, a spokeswoman for Kimia Farma Apotek, a subsidiary of the state-owned firm.
The company previously said the scheme, which planned to offer the vaccine at pharmacies for 879,140 rupiah (RM255) for two doses, would help “accelerate herd immunity”.
But health experts have said the priority should be for free vaccines going to all vulnerable groups to avoid the risk of inequity.
“Later if vaccines are in bountiful supply, maybe then there could be an option for paid vaccines, but not now,” said Diah Saminarsih, a senior adviser to the Director-General of the World Health Organization.
The health ministry declined to comment on the decision, directing questions to Kimia Farma.
The Sinopharm vaccine is already available in the South-east Asian nation through a programme that allows private firms to purchase vaccines for their employees.
Indonesia has recorded more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases and 64,000 deaths in total from the respiratory disease, one of the worst outbreaks in Asia.
Nonetheless, some public health experts believe the scale of the outbreak is vastly underestimated.
A serological study released at the weekend by Jakarta’s government found 44.5 per cent, or 4.7 million, of the city’s population of 10.6 million had Covid-19 antibodies this March.
That compared with only 8.1 per cent of cases that had been confirmed, with most likely to be asymptomatic, according to the study conducted in conjunction with the University of Indonesia, the Eijkman Institute and CDC Indonesia. — Reuters