Indonesia fast tracks COVID-19 vaccine development

Almost every country in the world, including Indonesia, is racing against time to develop a vaccine of its own or obtain imported vaccines to defeat COVID-19, which has triggered a global economic and health crisis.

Indonesia is keen to get a vaccine at the earliest, therefore, President Joko Widodo has reportedly directed the research team at the Faculty of Medicine at Padjadjaran University to speed up the clinical trials of China-based Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The researchers have been asked to make the vaccine available in three months, instead of six months, in accordance with standard procedures.

“The directive from Mr. President is to make efforts to speed up the availability of this corona vaccine, if possible, within three months,” Kusnandi Rusmil, the research team’s leader and concurrently the coordinator of the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, told the press following a meeting with President Jokowi at the Presidential Palace on July 21, 2020.

However, Kusnandi said, it would be impossible to expedite the clinical trial and complete it in three months as the research team has to work very carefully and properly while carrying out the testing, which is expected to be completed in January, 2021.

President Jokowi is known for working fast and he has often asked his subordinates to expedite work. He has often reiterated that global competition is now not between big countries and small ones, or rich countries and poor ones, saying countries that work fast will defeat slow ones.

Perhaps for this reason, he has established several teams for expediting his programs, such as the Implementation Team of the Committee for Acceleration of Priority Infrastructure Delivery (KPPIP) in 2016.

After the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 cases were announced on March 2, 2020, the President set up a Task Force for the Acceleration of COVID-19 Handling on March 14, 2020.

On September 8, 2020, the government set up a National Team for the Acceleration of COVID-19 Vaccine Development and installed Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Airlangga Hartarto, as the head of its steering team.

The structure of the National Team for the Acceleration of COVID-19 Vaccine Development has been stipulated in Presidential Decree Number 18 of 2020, dated September 3, 2020. The team will function until December 31, 2021, according to Wiku Adisasmito, spokesperson for the COVID-19 task force.

"All components (of the team) must be able to work and synergize the time, that is not long, and they really must complete the task by the end of 2021," he added.

Members of the steering team include Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy, and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud MD.

Meanwhile, Minister for Research and Technology and head of the National Research and Innovation Agency, Bambang Brodjonegoro, has been tasked with leading the persons in charge in the team, with Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto serving as Deputy Chair I and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir as Deputy Chairman II.

Members of the team include Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi, Minister of Industry, Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita, Minister of Trade, Agus Suparmanto, Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim, and head of the Food and Drug Administration, Penny Kusumastuti Lukito.

The team has four objectives, namely, to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines in Indonesia; to bring about national resilience and self-reliance in developing COVID-19 vaccines; to intensify synergy in terms of research, development, assessment, and application of science knowledge and technology, as well as invention and innovation, production, distribution, and use or utilization of COVID-19 vaccines between the government and science and technology institutions, as well as science and technology resources in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines; and, to carry out preparations, work towards utilization, and capacity building, as well as boost national capacity for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Currently, Indonesia is seeking to obtain the vaccine through two ways: by developing an indigenous vaccine named after the national flag, the Red and White, and importing vaccines in cooperation with foreign countries or institutions.

Jokowi has urged the Red and White Vaccine Team to work at a swift pace to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, for which research is currently underway.

The Eijkman Institute is developing the Red and White Vaccine using a recombinant protein platform. The development process for the vaccine seeds in the laboratory is 50-percent complete.

The target is to complete testing the vaccine on animals by the end of this year, according to Bambang Brodjonegoro, who chairs a team in charge of developing the Red and White vaccine.

"Thus, early next year, around January, the Eijkman Institute can hand over the vaccine seeds to PT Bio Farma for production formulation in the context of clinical trials, comprising clinical trials phase 1, 2, and 3," he remarked.

After the clinical trials conclude and the Food and Drug Administration declares the vaccine safe for use and suitable for strengthening the body's resistance to COVID-19, Bio Farma will begin mass production of the vaccines.

"It is estimated that in the fourth quarter of 2021, the vaccine would be produced in large quantities and will complement the COVID-19 vaccine that will initially be imported with the cooperation of foreign parties, especially with Sinovac China and G42 United Arab Emirates. The vaccination process is expected to be conducted immediately," the minister noted.

According to Airlangga Hartarto, Indonesia will receive 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020, so immunization can kick off in the first quarter of 2021.

Hartarto, concurrently chair of the Committee for Handling COVID-19 and National Economic Recovery (PEN), stated that the government has set a target for Indonesia to have access to between 250 million and 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by next year.

The minister explained that the target will be achieved by obtaining the vaccine from 10 sources, including Sinovac, G-42/Wuhan Institute Biological Products/Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, GAVI/CEPI, and CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute Technology.

"The vaccine from GAVI/CEPI is estimated to be priced lower by around US$3 to US$5, while the Sinovac vaccine is projected to cost between US$10 and US$20," he revealed.

Vaccines will also be sourced from BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer, Modena/NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), Acturus Therapeutics/Duke-NUS, and Genexine Korea.

Earlier, State-owned Enterprises Minister and COVID-19 Handling and National Economic Recovery Committee Chief, Erick Thohir, had pinned his hopes on the production of the Red and White vaccine starting in 2022.

The minister expressed the belief that with the production of the Red and White vaccine, Indonesia would no longer need to rely on foreign-manufactured ones.

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021 is expected to help Indonesia's economy to recover at the latest by mid-2021. When the people are healthy, the economy will be sound, too.

Source: Antara News

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