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Indonesia launches COVID booster campaign to stem Omicron spread

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia opened its coronavirus booster campaign to the public yesterday as the country records rising infections driven by the Omicron variant.

The free shots will be given to the elderly and at-risk residents as a priority, but will be available to everyone who received their second dose six months prior, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday after announcing the decision.

The boosters will be administered as half doses due to supply shortages, said Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country with more than 270 million people, has struggled to procure enough vaccines for its residents since the onset of the pandemic.

Elderly Indonesians lined up at vaccinations centres in Jakarta yesterday for their boosters in hope of better protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“I must get this shot because I have a lot of activities,” said 84-year-old Hardini in Jakarta after receiving her third shot.

“I am still playing tennis, running. If I don’t have immunity then I could infect people or I could become sick.”

A woman receives a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine at South Tangerang Regional General Hospital, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

Indonesia is administering half doses for all of its approved vaccines, of which there is no precedent elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 taskforce spokesperson Siti Nadia Tarmizi told AFP.

Indonesia uses Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac for Covid-19 inoculations.

Some countries, including the United States, are injecting half a dose of Moderna as a booster.

The decision to use half doses was based on a study conducted by the University of Indonesia and the Padjadjaran University in collaboration with the Health Ministry, Tarmizi said.

The country has been severely impacted by the pandemic since July last year, with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen to treat infected patients.

It had reported more than 4.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 144,000 deaths as of yesterday. Around 40 per cent of the Indonesian population is double-jabbed.

The low vaccination rate is leaving the country vulnerable to new outbreaks, especially of the more transmissible Omicron variant that is driving record case numbers in Europe.