Merah Putih: Indonesia aims to produce locally-developed COVID-19 vaccine in 2022

File photo of a COVID-19 vaccine dose. Photo: freepik
File photo of a COVID-19 vaccine dose. Photo: freepik

Indonesia has been fully dependent on COVID-19 vaccines developed abroad (the controversial Nusantara vaccine notwithstanding) in its mass vaccination program, but it may produce its own starting next year with one vaccine candidate showing promising signs. 

The Merah Putih vaccine (which translates to the “red-and-white” vaccine, in reference to the colors of Indonesia’s flag), which is jointly being developed by Airlangga University (Unair) and PT Biotis Pharmaceutical Indonesia, has been given the go-ahead by the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) for further development and clinical trials.

Unair and Biotis has reportedly concluded animal trials of the inactivated virus vaccine candidate, and will soon commence human trials ahead of an expected Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by BPOM in 2022.

“The EUA may come in the first half of 2022,” BPOM chief Penny Lukito said today.

PT Biotis is the first private Indonesian pharmaceutical firm capable of producing human vaccines, and is only the second overall in the country after state-owned PT Biofarma.

In Indonesia’s mass vaccination program, a vaccine by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac has been the most popular by an overwhelming margin thus far, with most of the doses arriving in the country in bulk form and processed into ready-to-use vaccines by PT Biofarma.

Other available COVID-19 vaccines include those by the UK’s AstraZeneca and the US’ Moderna, which were donated to Indonesia through a WHO-backed initiative to distribute vaccines to developing countries.

Merah Putih is expected to further boost vaccine availability in Indonesia and protect the public from dangerous new mutations of the coronavirus. A researcher for the vaccine said mice injected with the vaccine developed good immune resistance to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which contributed to Indonesia’s devastating COVID-19 wave of mid-2021.

Since Indonesia’s mass vaccination program began in mid-January, 29 million people have received two doses of the vaccine, which represents 12.31 percent of Indonesia’s goal to have 70 percent of its population fully inoculated in order to trigger herd immunity against COVID-19 by early 2022.

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