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Indonesia in talks with African countries to export its homemade COVID shot

African countries struggled early in the pandemic to secure COVID vaccines as rich countries hoarded doses. But many are now well-supplied with shots and are instead having trouble administering them, either because of hesitancy or logistics.

October 07, 2022 / 01:02 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Indonesia is in talks with several African countries, including Nigeria, to export and donate its homemade COVID-19 vaccine, its developer said on Friday, after becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to approve a domestically developed COVID shot.

Indonesian approval for the shot, the detailed trial data of which has yet to be announced and is primarily based on coroanvirus variants preceding Omicron, underscores progress in vaccine research and in reducing reliance on foreign technology.

"With Indovac … it’s Indonesia’s chance to donate,” Honesti Basyir, CEO of state-owned Bio Farma, told Reuters, referring to the protein-recombinant COVID vaccine that was approved by the drug regulator, BPOM, last month.

Bio Farma said it had also submitted documents to the World Health Organization for an emergency use listing (EUL) approval for IndoVac, which would allow it to be donated through organisations such as the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX.

In the meantime, Indonesia can export the vaccine.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"It doesn’t close the possibility of us exporting, as long as BPOM’s approval can be accepted by local regulators,” Honesti said, though adding that the priority was to vaccinate Indonesians first.

Export prospects for the vaccine are seen limited, however, as the COVID shots are in oversupply globally and Indovac is not developed to target the dominant Omicron variant.

African countries struggled early in the pandemic to secure COVID vaccines as rich countries hoarded doses. But many are now well-supplied with shots and are instead having trouble administering them, either because of hesitancy or logistics.

IndoVac, jointly developed with Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, is available as a primary shot for adults in Indonesia.

Honesti said research had begun to make an Omicron-targeted version, adding its COVID vaccine development had given Indonesia the confidence to reduce dependency on foreign technology.

Bio Farma plans to produce 20 million doses of IndoVac this year but the final supply depends on the government’s vaccination plans.

Indonesia has fully vaccinated more than 63% of its 270 million people with shots made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Honesti said Bio Farma had stopped producing Sinovac’s vaccine last year and was not in the process of getting more supplies from the Chinese company, as it shifts its focus to IndoVac.
Reuters