Indonesian leader receives country’s first coronavirus vaccine

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Jakarta (AFP)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the country’s first vaccine against Covid-19 on Wednesday, as the sprawling archipelago of nearly 270 million people launched a mass vaccination campaign to tackle the surge in cases.

In a procedure broadcast live on television, the 59-year-old leader, better known as Jokowi, was inoculated at the Jakarta State Palace along with his Minister of Health and several senior officials, as well as business leaders and religious.

“I don’t feel it at all,” he laughed after receiving the injection, the first of the two needed. He will get the second at a later date.

This week, national regulators approved a Covid-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac, announcing that its effectiveness was relatively low at 65.3%, according to tests carried out in Indonesia.

The predominantly Muslim nation’s main religious body has also endorsed the vaccine as halal – meaning permitted under Islam – to an extent that could help convince suspicious citizens.

Previous immunization campaigns have met with resistance among segments of the country’s immense population, the fourth largest in the world.

“This vaccination is important to break the chain of coronavirus infections and to ensure the protection of our health for all, as well as the safety and security of all Indonesians,” Jokowi told reporters, adding that it “would also help to accelerate economic recovery ”.

Health workers and other at-risk groups will be prioritized as part of an ambitious plan to immunize nearly 182 million people over the next 15 months.

The Southeast Asian nation has already signed agreements for nearly 330 million doses of the vaccine with a range of pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Chinese suppliers, including Sinopharm.

It has reported nearly 850,000 cases of Covid-19 and nearly 25,000 deaths, but low testing rates mean the public health crisis is considered much bigger than the numbers suggest.

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