Indonesian sales of Chinese vaccines to public postponed amid criticism

3 minute read

Doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen at the Biblioteka kod Milutina restaurant in Kragujevac, Serbia, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

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  • State-owned firm Kimia Farma planned to sell Sinopharm shots
  • Public health experts warn scheme could bypass vulnerable groups
  • Health minister says plan can go ahead once enough free vaccine
  • Study shows 44.5% of Jakarta residents had COVID-19 antibodies

JAKARTA, July 12 (Reuters) - 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 decision 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 put the scheme to sell the Sinopharm vaccine on hold to allow more time to explain it to the public.

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"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, whichintended to sell the vaccine at pharmacies for 879,140 rupiah ($60.53) 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.

"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 Sinopharm vaccine is already available in Indonesia through a programme that allows private firms to purchase vaccines for employees.

Budi Gunadi Sadikin, Indonesia's health minister, said on Monday extending it to individuals was because some companies were unable to purchase shots for staff, adding it could go ahead once there was sufficient supply of free vaccines.

JAKATA STUDY INDICATES FAR MORE INFECTIONS

After tougher coronavirus restrictions were imposed this month, Indonesia's central bank on Monday slashed its forecast for 2021 economic growth to 3.8% from a previous forecast of 4.6%. read more

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.

After reporting more than 30,000 infections on a daily basis since July 6, senior minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said that cases should drop next week, citing reduced mobility after movement restrictions.

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%, 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% 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.

($1 = 14,525.0000 rupiah)

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Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies

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