SINGAPORE—Indonesia is taking steps toward approving emergency usage of Covid-19 vaccine candidates from China, a senior health official said, a move that would make it the second country outside China to do so.
The United Arab Emirates approved a Chinese vaccine for emergency use last month. Within China, hundreds of thousands of people, from front-line medical workers to customs staff, have been injected with vaccines outside of clinical trials.
Indonesia’s government says it will procure 18 million doses by the end of the year from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Sinopharm and
CanSino Biologics Inc.,
whose vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials in various parts of the world. Health care workers, police and soldiers will be among the first to receive the vaccines under the emergency-use authorization, which could come as early as November, said Achmad Yurianto, Director General of Disease Prevention and Control at Indonesia’s health ministry.
“Speeding up distribution is to keep employees safe from the possibility of infection,” Mr. Yurianto said.
The world’s fourth most-populous country has struggled to bring down coronavirus cases, averaging more than 4,000 infections a day in recent weeks. It has recorded 12,000 deaths, the highest in East Asia. Public-health experts say official figures understate the true disease burden as Indonesia has tested a smaller share of its population than any other major economy.
Indonesia is hosting a Phase 3 clinical trial for the vaccine developed by one of the three Chinese companies, Sinovac. The process, which began in August, hasn’t revealed serious negative side effects for participants so far, Mr. Yurianto said. The trial is scheduled to be completed over the next few months, potentially after emergency use begins in Indonesia.
Mr. Yurianto said officials will have a chance to evaluate the results of vaccine trials Chinese companies are conducting elsewhere before making their final decision on allowing emergency use. An Indonesian government delegation, including members of the country’s food and drug agency, is traveling to China for two weeks starting Wednesday to meet the three Chinese vaccine producers and evaluate the data, he said.
Phase 3 trials test for both efficacy and safety on a large scale, usually involving tens of thousands of volunteers. Trials for Chinese vaccines are taking place in more than a dozen countries, including Brazil, Morocco, Argentina, Pakistan and Russia.
Western health experts warn that only Phase 3 clinical trial results can conclusively determine the safety and efficacy of a vaccine and that China is using its vaccines too broadly.
Some public-health experts in Indonesia worry that a rushed distribution of unproven vaccines could be harmful. Pandu Riono, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Indonesia, said that using vaccines in early November would be “very dangerous.” Studies about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines should be published and reviewed openly by international experts before the vaccines are authorized for use, he said.
Mr. Yurianto, the health ministry official, said the vaccines would only receive emergency-use authorization if officials felt assured they were safe.
If Indonesia approves limited use of the CanSino and Sinovac vaccines, it would be the first country outside of China to do so. That could be a prize for Beijing, which is trying to become a dominant vaccine provider for developing countries.
China approved CanSino’s vaccine in June to be used on the Chinese military. A CanSino spokeswoman declined to say how many members of the military had used the vaccine, or if it had been approved by Chinese authorities for emergency use outside the military.
Sinovac and Sinopharm didn’t respond to requests for comment. Their vaccines were deployed for emergency use in China starting in July.
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