Bureaucracy, distribution challenges hinder Covid-19 inoculation in Indonesia

JAKARTA – Indonesia has secured 480 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines of various brands and almost one-third have been delivered, making it the country with the largest stock available in South-east Asia.

But getting them distributed and administered to people across the world’s largest archipelagic nation is a daunting task that requires navigation across seas and tough terrains, as well as through a web of affiliations and bureaucracy.

Indonesia has 34 provinces that are made up by more than 500 cities and regencies.

Many of the local leaders – mayors, regents and provincial governors – have affiliations to different political parties, organisations and groups, and have often been uncooperative, posing a stumbling block to the vaccination drive.

“We found incidents where regions declined to promptly distribute vaccines to certain areas because of different affiliations, different (political party) colours,” said a senior government official in a recent discussion with several journalists.

The Health Ministry has roped in the military and police force to speed up vaccination. Queues for jabs at police stations and territorial military headquarters across the country have become a common sight.

The government has also involved a wide range of civil society groups, school alumni clubs and religious organisations, including the two largest ones – Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – which have tens of millions of members each.

At a hearing with Parliament’s health committee on Tuesday (July 13), Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin thanked the military and police, saying that without their help, Indonesia would not be able to reach the rate of a million jabs a day.

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There are plans to increase this to two million jabs per day by next month.

So far, one in every 10 people has received the first shot.

Of the 480 million doses secured, Indonesia has received 140 million doses from Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Moderna. The remaining doses are from brands such as Pfizer (50 million to be delivered between August and December) and Novavax (50 million between September and December).

The distribution of vaccines has also been hampered by bureaucracy resulting from the 1999 decentralisation law that transfers political and economic powers from the central government to the regions. To resolve this, Indonesia no longer requires citizens to get Covid-19 jabs in their respective city or regency of domicile.

“We adopt anything that would make the process simpler,” said senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

Another challenge is that vaccinators have to cross seas and navigate through rough terrain and dirt paths in far-flung places.

“We are definitely not Australia that is one-continent land, or relatively low-population countries like Singapore,” Mr Luhut said.

Based on government data this week, Jakarta and Bali are the two most vaccinated provinces, with 65 per cent of Jakarta’s population having received the first jab, while Bali’s rate stands at 80.1 per cent.

Highly populated provinces with low vaccination rates include West Java (11 per cent) and Banten (12 per cent).

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said in a Monday webinar attended by The Straits Times: “People unfairly compared us with smaller provinces. West Java has vast areas, a lot of difficult terrains, and has a 50 million population, or the size of South Korea.”

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