Indonesian President Joko Widodo to receive first shot as country pledges free coronavirus vaccines

Indonesian President Joko Widodo reacts as he wears a protective mask during an interview at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Indonesia will provide free coronavirus vaccines to its citizens when the world’s fourth most populous nation starts its inoculation programme, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday, adding he would get the first shot to reassure people on safety.

The sprawling, developing country received its first shipment of vaccines, 1.2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech in early December, but is awaiting emergency use authorisation from its food and drug agency.

Another 1.8 million doses are expected to be delivered in January with the government previously saying that healthcare workers in Java and Bali would be prioritised.

“After receiving many people’s suggestions and after recalculating state financial calculations, I can say that COVID-19 vaccines for citizens will be free,” the president said in a video statement from the state palace in Jakarta.

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The decision comes as the country of 270 million faces an escalating coronavirus outbreak and also after social media campaigns urging authorities to provide vaccines free of charge.

The president said he had instructed the finance minister to reallocate spending to fund the programme.

Amid concens over vaccine safety and whether shots would be halal, an issue for many in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the president said he would be the first recipient.

“This to provide assurance and trust to people that the vaccine is safe,” he said.

He did not specify which vaccine he would receive but a phase III trial of Sinovac’s CoronaVac is being conducted on 1,620 volunteers in the Indonesian city of Bandung in West Java but the results are yet to be released.

Ten months after officially recording its first case of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, Indonesia has now recorded more than 629,000 confirmed infections and 19,000 deaths, the highest caseload and death toll in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is looking to secure 246.6 million vaccine doses and has also been in negotiations with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and global vaccine programme COVAX.

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