Jakarta: Among the first group on the waiting list for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia, there is a notable group – social media influencers.
Along with President Joko Widodo, where the vaccination campaign began on Wednesday in the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesian TV personality Ravi Ahmed, who boasts about 50 million followers on Instagram.
“Thank God, a vaccine … Don’t be afraid of vaccines,” the 33-year-old wrote in a video of himself receiving the shot, next to a heart-shaped emoji and another of the red and white Indonesian flag.
Determining who should be first in line for limited vaccine doses has been a challenge worldwide, with many countries prioritizing clinicians at risk and the elderly.
The decision to include influencers, along with the nearly 1.5 million healthcare workers in the first round of vaccinations, was a deliberate government communications strategy, said senior health ministry official Nadia Tarmizi.
Although Indonesia faces the most severe outbreak of the Coronavirus in Southeast Asia – with more than 869,000 cases and 25,000 deaths – there have been doubts about the safety and efficacy of any vaccine, and in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, whether it is halal or permissible. In Islam.
Indonesians are among the top global users of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The Ministry of Health did not say how many influencers would be first on the vaccination list, but others slated to receive the vaccine on Thursday include musicians Ariel from Noah’s band and Risa Saraswati.
Ayani Raksanagara, head of the Bandung Health Agency, told Reuters that the artists “hope to convey positive impact and messages” about vaccines, especially to young people.
A poll last month showed that only 37% of Indonesians would like to be vaccinated while 40% would consider it, and 17% declined.
Some clinicians have raised doubts about Indonesia’s initial use of the CoronaVac vaccine from the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech – studies from Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey have shown efficacy ranging from 50% to 91%.
But in another possible boost to the chances of acceptance, the country’s Supreme Islamic Council has deemed the vaccine halal.
But the decision to include social media influencers in the priority list backfired somewhat when photos of Ravi showed him partying hours after he was given the injection – which does not give him immediate immunity.
Photos of him exposed and violating social distancing protocols with a group of friends sparked criticism on social media, with calls for him to be a better role model.
“This also shows that the government is inconsistent in prioritizing who gets the vaccine first,” said Irma Hidayana, co-founder of the LaporCovid-19 epidemic data initiative.
“They should have done it with another health worker, perhaps, and not with an influencer.”
Nadia, the official at the Ministry of Health, noted that “when you are vaccinated, you still have to adhere to health protocols and not neglect their implementation.”
Zubairi Djerban of the Indonesian Medical Association said the strategy of hiring influencers can only succeed if “the influencers are informed about the vaccine and the COVID-19 virus so that they become agents of change.”
Police said they are investigating whether Ravi has broken the law, while offering a public apology.