Indonesia stepped up its immunization campaign on Wednesday, adding the elderly and front-line public workers to the list of those who can be vaccinated. By May, the country hopes to inoculate 38 million people, the government said. Wiku Adisasmito, a spokesman for the Covid-19 taskforce, used the occasion to remind the public that they have an “obligation to participate in the program” as “laid out in the presidential regulation.”
President Joko Widodo last weekend changed the health regulations, allowing government agencies or provincial and municipal authorities to impose their own penalties on those who refuse to be vaccinated despite being eligible. Vaccine-dodgers face fines and may be excluded from some public services. Critics say it victimizes poor citizens who are the primary recipients of social program benefits.
Of the 34 provinces, only one – the capital, Jakarta – has issued regulations under which refusal to be vaccinated is punished by a fine of around $360.
Indonesia aims to inoculate two-thirds of its population of 270 million over 15 months to achieve an immunity level high enough to quash the epidemic. In a Health Ministry survey, 65 percent of Indonesians said they would take the vaccine, while only eight percent said they categorically reject it.
This didn’t stop officials from saying they may strong-arm the reluctant, apparently aiming at the undecided 27 percent. Last month, Edward Hiariej, the deputy minister of law and human rights, said the law allows jail time of up to one year for refusing vaccination, which he described as mandatory. The remark prompted accusations the government is infringing on human rights.
Skepticism about vaccines and suggestions to overcome it with coercive measures are hardly a uniquely Indonesian phenomenon. Vaccination certificates are likely to become a prerequisite for international travel, and reportedly, in countries such as Israel and Denmark, unvaccinated people face restrictions on social life.
Some governments seem unwilling to make these measures official policy due to potential public backlash, but are reportedly willing to have employers do the policing for them. The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that some British companies are preparing to adopt ‘no jab, no job’ employment contracts, with what appears to be tacit approval from Downing Street.
Some aspects of vaccination non-compliance in Indonesia, however, are more specific to its national realities. Part of the public concern comes from the refusal of the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech to disclose the ingredients of its Covid-19 vaccine. Indonesia has been relying on the CoronaVac formula for its immunization drive so far, though others such as AstraZeneca’s and Pfizer’s are expected to be available soon. Some people in the world’s largest Muslim nation fear that the Chinese vaccine could contain pig gelatin as a stabilizer, and would thus be incompatible with Islam’s ban on such products.
These fears were addressed in early January, when the country’s Ulema Council, a clerical body that, among other things, does assessments of food, drug, and cosmetic products, declared the vaccine halal, or permissible by Islam. After a visit to a Sinovac production facility, the experts accepted its assurances that their vaccine does not contain porcine ingredients.