JAKARTA — Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the country’s first COVID-19 jab Wednesday, as the sprawling archipelago of nearly 270 million kicked off a mass vaccination drive to clamp down on soaring case rates.
In a procedure broadcast live on television, the 59-year-old leader, better known as Jokowi, was inoculated at the state palace in Jakarta along with his health minister and several senior officials, as well as business and religious leaders.
“I don’t feel it at all,” he said with a laugh after receiving the injection, the first of two required.
He will get the second jab at a later date. This week, domestic regulators approved a COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac, announcing that its efficacy stood at a relatively low 65.3 percent, according to tests performed in Indonesia.
The Muslim-majority nation’s top religious body also approved the vaccine as halal – meaning permissible under Islam – in a move that could help convince wary citizens.
Previous vaccination drives have met resistance among some segments of the country’s huge population, the world’s fourth largest.
“This vaccination is important to break the chain of coronavirus infections and to give health protection to all of us, and safety and security for all Indonesians,” Jokowi told reporters, adding that it would “also help speed up the economic recovery.”
Health workers and other at-risk groups will get priority under an ambitious plan to inoculate nearly 182 million people over the next 15 months.
The Southeast Asian nation has already signed deals for nearly 330 million vaccine doses from a string of pharmaceutical companies including UK-based AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Chinese suppliers including Sinopharm.
It has reported nearly 850,000 COVID-19 cases and close to 25,000 deaths, but low testing rates mean the public health crisis is believed to be much bigger than the figures suggest.