With a population of 270 million, the fourth biggest in the world, Indonesia is prioritizing its 1.5 million health care workers in its vaccination program…and social media influencers.
Senior health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said the decision to include influencers was a deliberate government communications strategy, according to a Reuters report.
President Joko Widodo was vaccinated on Wednesday, Jan. 13. On the same day, 33-year-old TV personality Raffi Ahmad, who 49.4 million followers on Instagram, was also inoculated.
He posted a video of himself being inoculated on Instagram with the caption “Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] a vaccine ... Don’t be afraid of vaccines.”
Indonesia has the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in Southeast Asia and fourth in Asia with 869,000 cases and 25,246 deaths—following India (10.5 million cases, 151,954 deaths), Turkey (2.3 million cases, 23,495 deaths) and Iran (1.3 million cases, 56,538 deaths).
The decision to include influencers as a priority group is to help dispel skepticism over the safety and efficacy of vaccines in the Muslim-majority nation. A survey in December showed that only 37% of Indonesians were willing to be vaccinated; 40% would consider it; and 17% refused.
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“The health ministry did not say how many infuencers would be first in the vaccine line, but others due to receive a shot on Thursday included musicians Ariel, of the band Noah, and Risa Saraswati. Ahyani Raksanagara, head of Bandung’s health agency, told Reuters the artists would ‘hopefully convey positive influence and messages’ about the vaccines, and especially to young people,” teh reuters report continued.
Still, the strategy is not without critics. After influencer Raffi Ahmad was inoculated, images of him without a mask and ignoring social distancing with a group of friends drew the public’s ire.
“It also shows the government is inconsistent in prioritizing who gets the vaccine first,” said Irma Hidayana, cofounder of pandemic data initiative LaporCOVID-19, “They should’ve done it with another health worker, maybe, not an influencer.”
In the Philippines, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said on Dec. 10 that priority groups are healthcare workers in public and private facilities, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, regional health offices, field workers, contract tracers, emergency response teams, and barangay health stations.
These would be followed by areas with a high concentration of COVID cases, namely, Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Davao City, Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro, Baguio City, Bacolod, Iloilo, Zambaonga City, Tacloban City, and General Santos City.