Indonesian Red Cross officers spray disinfectant at Pondok Bambu residential area in Jakarta, Indonesia February 10, 2022. This action is aimed at suppressing the micron variant of the coronavirus.
Eco Siswono Toyudho | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Indonesia is experiencing a new wave of Covid infections, with daily cases reaching an all-time high last week.
The Southeast Asian country relied heavily on Chinese-made inactivated viral vaccines, which studies showed were less effective than mRNA injections.
Messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines use genetic material to start the body’s infection-fighting process, while traditional vaccines use a dead or weakened virus to create an immune response.
On Wednesday, Indonesia hit a daily record of over 64,000 cases. – replacing daily infections in the previous wave, which peaked at just under 57,000 in July 2021.
Country reported 5.2 million Covid-19 cases to date and at least 146,000 deaths According to the Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the pandemic. It has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The latest spike in Covid cases in Indonesia has put Chinese vaccines to the test.
Two doctors who spoke to CNBC argued that Chinese-made vaccines, such as the one developed by Sinovac Biotech, on which Indonesia relied most, are still capable of preventing serious illness and death.
“In fact, I mean, this is the first and foremost benefit of any vaccine in the world,” said Dr. Dicky Budiman, a global health security researcher at Griffith University in Australia.
Being less efficient is not the same as being inefficient, he told CNBC.
“If you get two or three doses of Sinovac or Sinopharm, these vaccines are frankly doing their job,” said Vin Gupta, associate professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent center for global health research at New York University. Washington.
Vaccinations don’t prevent infection, but they do keep people from going to hospitals — “exactly what they should be doing,” he told CNBC Street Signs Asia last month, adding that the world had wrong expectations for Covid vaccines.
As omicrons spread in December, researchers at the University of Hong Kong found that The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which uses the new mRNA technology, performed slightly better than the Sinovac vaccines against this variant, but noted that both did not provide sufficient protection.
In this sense, all countries remain vulnerable to high numbers of cases, said Dr. Edi Rahmat, Executive Director of Project HOPE Indonesia. Project HOPE, short for Health Opportunities for People Everywhere, is a global health and humanitarian organization.
He pointed out that the US has introduced mainly mRNA vaccines that are considered more effective but are still vulnerable to omicrons. In January, the number of cases in the US rose sharply as the variant spread across the country. Mortality increased sharply, but remained lower than in previous waves.
Many developing countries around the world have relied on Chinese-made Covid vaccines, which are easier to transport and store than vaccines developed by Pfizer or Moderna, which must be stored at freezing temperatures.
Budiman of Griffith University said countries should use any available vaccine approved by the World Health Organization.
“If we wait [for] messenger RNA, many people … will die during the delta wave,” he said.
He also said he hoped the world would view vaccines not as “Chinese” or “Western” vaccines, but rather as “accessible tools” that we have and can use now.
Covid cases in Indonesia started to rise rapidly in January and continue to rise. The WHO said in an epidemiological report dated February 15 that the number of infections in the country increased by 68% from a week earlier.
Project HOPE’s Rahmat said the increase in cases has occurred mainly in high-density cities such as Bandung, Yogyakarta and the capital Jakarta. However, the virus could soon spread further to suburban areas, he said.
Hospital bed occupancy is also on the rise. “This is an alarming situation. If the number of cases rises sharply in the coming weeks, there will be a lot of people needing hospitalization and the maximum capacity of hospitals can be reached very soon,” he warned.
The good news, Rahmat said, is that Indonesians are now more aware of tracing and testing and are taking the initiative to get tested when they are in close contact with confirmed cases.
He also added that the country is now in a better position, given that vaccination rates have risen.
In addition, both doctors said that people who recovered from an earlier strain of the virus may have some immunity, although they warned that the level of protection will decrease within a few months.
However, Budiman said the public health measures were not strong enough. He said testing capacity is not high enough, meaning official case numbers probably don’t tell the full story.
About 50.64% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. For comparison, in neighboring Malaysia, 78.54% of the population is fully vaccinated, while in the Philippines this figure is 56%.
Indonesian authorities turned around boosters to the general public in January.