JAKARTA - Indonesia started its mass vaccination program on Wednesday (13/1), but its strategy in inoculating working age group prompts questions from international experts. As Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Nadia Wikeko told Al Jazeera, Indonesia targets innoculation on productive age group between 18 to 59 years old due to incomplete stage three clinical trials for the elderly. “We are still waiting for the BPOM (Indonesia’s Food and Drug Agency) to see if the vaccine can be used safely for people over 60.”

Kim Mulholland, Vaccinology Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine based at the University of Melbourne, stated to Al Jazeera that vaccinated elderlies in China and the Middle East had responded as well as younger people. “[Studies] conducted in [other countries] showed overwhelming evidence that the greatest risk factor for becoming gravely ill from COVID-19 is age. Even for a country with young population like Indonesia, most deaths are people over 60," he added. Indonesian Ministry of Health data agreed with Prof Mulholland's observation, as people over 60 years represent only 10% of the nation's population but accounts for 39% of COVID-19 fatalities in the country.

Professor Dale Fisher from the Australian National University Hospital stated to BBC that Indonesia is engaging the "pragmatic approach". "[Indonesia is vaccinating the group they] have the data on. It's an accessible group and it will certainly help keep businesses and the food pipe going," he added.

Indonesia's choice of vaccine were also questioned, as in August, the Indonesian government secured 125 million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccines with an additional 100 million doses, and in December, the country placed orders for more than hundreds of millions of doses from AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Pfizer, while also planning to produce its own COVID-19 vaccine by mid-2021 through local company BioFarma. Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist who took part in formulating Indonesia's response in SARS, HIV, Avian Influenza, and Swine Flu commented that Sinovac would be his last option. “Sinovac’s vaccine doesn’t have any vac-flexibility so it would be the last one I would choose, as small mutations could significantly impact on vaccine effectiveness strategy and there has been over 40,000 COVID-19 mutations found,” he said to Al Jazeera. (AC)