COVAX: Valiant Diplomacy for Providing Indonesia’s COVID-19 Vaccines

Illustration from FPCI UI

The Inception of COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access

The world is currently facing a global pandemic which has started in the early months of 2020. Its first case was reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, which has spread to the rest of the globe. The coronavirus disease 2019 or better known as COVID-19, is a highly infectious disease caused by its pathogenic of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which can cause respiratory or immune complications. It is especially threatening to those who have underlying chronic conditions, which can result in death in the worst-case scenario, albeit most cases of this disease are mild with symptoms commonly of fever, dry cough, and fatigue or simply asymptomatic.

In the midst of 2021, we know more about the virus but not enough to completely eradicate it as COVID-19 is a new disease that is constantly changing and adapting. In sequence, it continuously makes new variants to achieve the utmost survivability rate in the ever-changing environment. This modification can be quite damaging to the progressive development which has been made by the COVID-19 research team and its vaccine production sector as the disease adapts to certain reinforcements faster than we could learn about it In such a way, it has made many countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) announce that the most effective way to combat the pandemic would be to get people vaccinated all across the globe to achieve herd immunity. This fact was long known by the healthcare industry since March 2020, which is why they have impressively achieved the production of COVID-19 vaccines in just a year. Despite their diligent efforts and positive motives, the other sector of the industry, the economic branch, needs to make a profit to repay the debt caused by the insurgency of the vaccine and its eventual mass production.

Being a business, the cost fabricated by many COVID-19 manufacturers is not obtainable by many States worldwide. Whether it is due to economic reasons or simply not having a bilateral relationship with related parties, this resulted in the launch of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) in April 2020 to help countries alike in the acquisition of said vaccines. 

COVAX: What It is and its Role in the Production of COVID-19 Vaccines

COVAX is a multilateral enterprise formed with the main intention to improve the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. It is co-led by the Global Alliance for Vaccine Alliance (Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to ensure the most optimum service is given. COVAX works by implementing investments from associated parties to produce vaccines from their arranged portfolio, COVID-19 being one of them. The COVAX facility will then manufacture them accordingly as promptly and safely as possible. Afterward, their partnership with the two United Nations (UN) organs, WHO and UNICEF, will ensure the distribution and delivery to the places that have requested the vaccines. Additionally, COVAX has assured to disperse the COVID-19 vaccines equitably after it has passed the regulatory approval throughout all participating countries, although they are prioritizing ones that are considered the high-risked population.

Being one of the pillars for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator as response to this global pandemic, the demand for COVID-19 vaccines is greatly sought after. That is why COVAX has launched several schemes for countries that have solicited vaccines, which can be modified according to their needs through a contract.  One of the examples for such schemes is called the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC), which has been utilized by 92 countries. All the participating countries are those considered to be low-income to lower-middle income nations as that is one of the requirements needed to be qualified for the said scheme. Many countries stretching across the Americas to Oceania have already adopted this delivery plan, including Indonesia. The reason why many nations have gotten interested in this specific opportunity and trusting COVAX to attain COVID-19 vaccines free of charge is because it might just be their only way to access such resources and, in a way, becomes a gleam of hope to a conceivably better future.

Indonesia’s Schemes for Attaining COVID-19 Vaccines

Indonesia received its first load of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX on the 8th of March 2021, specifically at the Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Tangerang. This first wave of shipment consists of vaccines delivered from AstraZeneca’s hub located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and went on from March of 2021 to May of 2021, where Indonesia acquired 11,704,800 vaccines that were ready to be used. Moreover, Indonesia was able to obtain these vaccines due to their scheme with COVAX which promised that COVAX would provide vaccines for at the very least 20% of Indonesia’s population at no cost.

This journey of gaining these valuable immunizations was not easy to obtain. It was a huge effort played by many State Officials of the Republic of Indonesia, with names like the Minister of Health, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises. Their hard work along with other external parties’ such as the logistics team for the distribution and enforcement of the cold chain, resulted in the accumulation of shipments from COVAX to Indonesia for the lot of 16,204,960 doses as of this writing, consisting of 11,704,800 AstraZeneca doses and 4,500,160 Moderna doses.

In addition, other than COVAX, Indonesia has also achieved bilateral schemes with the Netherlands, Pfizer Inc., and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Through multiple meetings and a strong willingness to keep their word in consolidating their relationship, the Netherlands via its embassy in Jakarta has brought out a course of action to aid Indonesia’s vaccine stockpile. This has been executed by the donation of three million AstraZeneca doses which will further continue in the upcoming months following August of 2021. Likewise, the leading Indonesian vaccine manufacturer, Biofarma, has agreed on a contract with Sinovac Biotech Ltd. which will send an additional ready to be used vaccine doses with an estimated amount of 25 million, at the latest by the end of August 2021.

Ultimately, due to the given reason Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world by population, the need to improve the quantity and acceleration for vaccines are required. In sequence, this motivation has also been emphasized and brought up by Retno L. P. Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, who also is a Co-Chair for the COVAX AMC Engagement Group aforementioned. She has stated that Indonesia will do what is necessary to strengthen their vaccine multilateral relationship in the interest of materializing their proposition of making vaccines equally accessible to not only all citizens of Indonesia but also for the entire population all across the world.

Now, from this article, it can be seen that in order to ensure that the people of Indonesia have a way to be vaccinated from COVID-19, its government had two approaches. First is bilateralism, focusing on the relationship between Indonesia and the related party, of examples which has been mentioned previously is with the Netherlands and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Secondly is through multilateralism, by way of COVAX. These factual cases in negotiating and managing the distribution COVID-19 vaccines stands as a tone of how diplomacy truly is important to Indonesia or to any country for that matter. During these uncertain times, where the economy has fallen short and countries all over are in need of assistance. COVAX has successfully formed itself into one of the prime factors into helping out countries in need and substantially putting the world one more step closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

References can be accessed through bit.ly/DiplookCOVAXIndonesiaReferences

Fernanda V. Haryanto Iskandar is one of the staffs of Research and Analysis Division in FPCI Chapter UI Board of 2021. He can be found on Instagram with the username @fernandavhi

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