Indonesia’s homegrown vaccine success a ‘key phase for nation’

A woman receives a shot of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination for people above the age of 60 at Adam Malik Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, March 8, 2021. (BINSAR BAKKARA / AP)

Indonesia’s development of its own COVID-19 vaccine will ensure that the Southeast Asian nation is “independent and capable” in controlling the pandemic, experts say.

While Indonesia’s immunization program currently relies on imported vaccines, producing a homegrown vaccine has always been part of the nation’s anti-pandemic drive.

IndoVac, a recombinant protein vaccine, is developed by state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma and the US-based Baylor College of Medicine

Indonesia’s National Agency of Drug and Food Control (BPOM) on Sept 30 announced the approval of IndoVac, the first locally developed COVID-19 vaccine, for emergency use. Penny Lukito, head of BPOM, said the issuance of the emergency use authorization (EUA) for IndoVac will support Indonesia’s “vaccine independence”.

IndoVac, a recombinant protein vaccine, is developed by state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma and the US-based Baylor College of Medicine. With the issuance of the EUA, IndoVac can now be used as a primary dose for an unvaccinated or partially vaccinated adult in Indonesia. Bio Farma is also conducting trials for booster vaccines.

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Indonesia’s success in developing its own vaccine is “an important phase for the nation”, said Riris Andono Ahmad, professor and director of the Center for Tropical Medicine at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyarta. By having IndoVac in its vaccination program, Ahmad said Indonesia will be ensured of its “independence and capability to control the pandemic”.

Dicky Budiman, epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said having a homegrown vaccine will ensure that Indonesians can always avail of booster shots. This is important given that variants of the virus could still emerge from time to time and it might take a while before COVID-19 reaches endemic phase.

While there are imported vaccines available, Budiman said it will take a lot of resources to immunize the world’s fourth most populous nation.

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He said using IndoVac will also encourage further developments in local vaccine manufacturing. This will not only contribute to the current pandemic response but also help Indonesia in managing other, future disease outbreaks.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 case numbers are among the highest in Asia, with the total number of infected persons hitting more than 6.4 million as of Oct 5.

In July 2021, Indonesia even became the epicenter of the pandemic, with as many as 50,000 new cases registered in a single day, owing to the highly infectious Delta variant that swept through the archipelago. 

The vaccination program has helped bring the pandemic under control in Indonesia, with about 80 percent of the vaccines currently used imported from China’s Sinovac. Fewer than 2,000 new cases per day have been recorded over the past two weeks.

Indonesia’s target is to vaccinate 234.6 million people this year. As of Oct 6, over 87 percent of Indonesians had received their first dose, while nearly 73 percent had had two doses, according to official data. Less than 30 percent had received the third jab.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, director of postgraduate studies at Jakarta-based YARSI University, said using IndoVac can help the government achieve its vaccination target.

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“If the technology is there, Indonesia can develop any vaccines it needs,” Aditama said.

IndoVac, which obtained its EUA on Sept 24, has shown an efficacy rate of 92 percent, according to BPOM’s Lukito. It has also obtained a halal certificate from the Indonesian Ulema Council – a key concern in the Muslim-majority nation.

Halal is an Arabic word that translates as “permissible”, as opposed to haram or “forbidden”.

Apart from IndoVac, another homegrown vaccine is in the pipeline. Inavac, once known as the Merah-Putih vaccine, has entered the final phase of clinical trials. Biotis Pharmaceuticals and Airlangga University have developed Inavac.

Aditama said the development of homegrown vaccines means Indonesia has the potential to be a COVID-19 vaccine exporter. He said Bio Farma, which developed IndoVac, is currently an exporter of other kinds of vaccines. 

Bio Farma has a production capacity of 3.2 billion doses per year and has exported its vaccines to more than 150 countries.

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