June 1, 2023
JAKARTA – The Health Ministry has scrapped a complex set of rules prescribing which vaccine brands were to be used at which stages of the COVID-19 vaccination regimen, opting instead to allow people to get any generally approved vaccine for their primary and booster doses, as policymakers shift toward treating the coronavirus as an endemic disease.
Health Ministry spokesman Mohammad Syahril said the simplification of the shot regimen was intended to improve national vaccine coverage for primary and booster doses.
Under the ministry’s previous vaccination rules, the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had to be of the same brand, and the subsequent booster shot had to be one of a corresponding set of brands.
This made it difficult for some people to get vaccinated, as persistent vaccine shortages in the country meant the required vaccine was not always available.
In addition, many people were selective about which vaccine brand they wanted to receive.
“[Under the new arrangement], people who have not completed the primary dose and follow-up doses can get their COVID-19 vaccination with any available vaccine. But people will still need to wait six months after getting their second dose to get a booster dose,” Syahril said in a statement on Friday.
“The new policy will make it easier for people to complete their vaccination series,” he said.
The country’s primary COVID-19 vaccination rate and booster vaccination rate as proportions of the total population have stayed nearly constant for months.
Two-dose primary vaccination coverage for all age groups increased by a little over 2 percentage points over the last 12 months, from 72.2 percent of target recipients last May to the current 74.5 percent – around 174.8 million people in total.
Third-dose coverage has stayed constant at around 37 percent since December 2022.
The government has previously cited the country’s low number of infections as a reason for the sluggish progress in vaccination.
With the exception of a minor case bump following Idul Fitri in April of this year, where some 2,000 new cases were recorded a day, daily new cases have been in the low hundreds since the start of the year.
The Health Ministry is working on a program to handle COVID-19 as an endemic disease after the World Health Organization declared earlier this month that the virus no longer constituted a global health emergency.
The new endemic strategy will likely include requiring people to pay for vaccines and treatment for the disease on their own or through insurance, such as the National Health Insurance (JKN) program.
The government is also considering lifting testing and vaccination requirements for travel.
Health experts have urged policymakers to proceed with caution, fearing that the public might end up completely disregarding the threat of COVID-19.