Vaccine diplomacy: Indonesia aims for national, global access

Indonesia has just received its "year-end present" with an additional 1.8 million doses of Sinovac vaccine landing in Jakarta on the very last day of 2020. The archipelagic nation had received the first consignment of 1.2 million doses from Sinovac earlier in December, 2020.

Speaking at an online press briefing one day before the latest consignment arrived, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi, had said that Indonesia's diplomacy is working to open the access for vaccine collaboration with all countries as well as mechanisms.

"I repeat, (we are seeking cooperation) with any parties, whether through bilateral track or multilateral, for vaccine procurement," Marsudi remarked.

"I could say that Indonesia has become one of a handful of countries which have secured vaccines for domestic needs,” she said.

“However, at the same time, aligned with the principle of equal access of vaccines for all the nations, as well as the manifested responsibility of Indonesia to the world, Indonesia contributes through CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) for global procurement,” she added.

Marsudi has on many other occasions voiced the urgent need to achieve both "vaccine nationalism" and "vaccine globalism”, citing the terms floated by senior Indonesian diplomat Dino Patti Djalal.

"Vaccine is certain to be a diplomatic, political, economic, and logistical challenge. Just like COVID-19 has been the most political virus ever, the vaccine will also be political," Djalal said in the year-end-statement of his think-tank, the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia.

He projected that through this second year of COVID-19 pandemic, there would be a strong impulse for "vaccine nationalism”.

“But, the real test of international solidarity is in the realm of vaccine cooperation. [...] And the good news is that 'vaccine globalism' is becoming a much stronger politically correct norm,” Djalal added.

The journey

Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech has, in total, shipped 3 million doses of its vaccine to Indonesia, and is expected to dispatch yet another 15 million doses in bulk in future.

Marsudi announced at the December-end briefing that Indonesia has also secured 100 million vaccine doses from British AstraZeneca and the United States' Novavax, who will provide 50 million doses each.

Back in August, 2020, Marsudi and Erick Thohir, the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, made official visits to China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to actively engage in vaccine diplomacy.

In China, Marsudi and Thohir secured vaccine deals with three companies: Sinovac, Sinopharm, and CanSino.

"During this visit, we would like to ensure the transformation of our healthcare industry, which is Bio Farma (Indonesian SOE of pharmaceutical) taken the deal with Sinovac under a win-win cooperation [...] along with transfer of knowledge and transfer of technology," Thohir emphasized.

Both ministers returned from the UAE with some deals, including a collaboration agreement on vaccine development between Indonesia's Kimia Farma and UAE-based healthcare technology company G-42, which devises artificial intelligence-driven solutions.

In mid-October, 2020, Marsudi and Thohir continued vaccine collaboration efforts by visiting Britain and Switzerland to pursue bilateral as well as multilateral cooperation with global organizations based in the two countries.

"The main issue we discussed with CEPI are follow-up steps of the due diligence conducted by CEPI to Bio Farma and strategic cooperation that we might engage beyond COVID-19," Marsudi said, referring to a London meeting with Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.

"As our commitment to multilateral effort ensures fair access for safe and affordable vaccines [...] Indonesia has delivered its willingness to become a part of CEPI Investors Council--with the amount of contribution to be discussed later," she added.

During a meeting in Geneva with the CEO of Gavi The Vaccine Alliance, a co-initiator of the COVAX facility along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and CEPI, Indonesia directly and officially submitted a letter of interest to join COVAX AMC (Advanced Market Commitment), Marsudi stated.

The letter was also delivered to the director general of the WHO at another meeting, during which “Indonesia reiterated its support for multilateralism, including vaccine-related issues, and emphasized the importance of all the countries across the globe to strengthen our solidarity to tackle this pandemic”, she added.

According to the latest update on the multilateral scheme, as Marsudi expounded during her remarks upon Sinovac's vaccine arrival on December 31, 2020, Indonesia has delivered two applications for vaccine request and a technology assistance form to COVAX.

Challenge in COVAX

However, the global vaccine facility — which is seeking to offer relief to poor and middle-income countries through the provision of about two billion vaccine doses through the end of 2021 — is also imperfect.

It "faces a 'very high' risk of failure, potentially leaving nations home to billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024", Reuters reported in December 16, 2020, citing an internal report to the board of Gavi.

"The scheme's promoters say the programme is struggling from a lack of funds, supply risks and complex contractual arrangements, which could make it impossible to achieve its goals," Reuters said.

However, with a commitment from Indonesia to encourage global communities to work together, as encapsulated by the Indonesian term gotong royong, providing equitable vaccine access for all the people in the world, as Minister Marsudi has maintained, it may just become possible.

"For Indonesia, this really means that we have to play an active role in COVAX. I think we should spend a lot of energy and push to ensure that COVAX will be a successful project," Dino Patti Djalal said.

Source: Antara News

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