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Young people first: How Indonesia's vaccine strategy compares to Canada's

Last Updated Jan 14, 2021 at 6:12 am MDT

CALGARY – Here at home the most at-risk populations are getting first access to Canada’s vaccine supply.

But Indonesia is taking a different approach–targeting young, working-age people aged 18 to 59 to help the economy and stop the spread by immunizing those it says are most likely to pass on the virus.

“I think you have to adjust vaccine strategies to different populations and transmission structures,” said Prabhat Jha, professor of global health at the University of Toronto, who adds it’s an interesting approach.

“This does seem to be an ambitious strategy that really has a lot of potential flaws with it,” said Craig Jenne, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s department of microbiology, immunology, and infectious diseases.

The government there believes vaccinating those who leave the house, travel around the city, and go back to their families is the best way to achieve herd immunity.

“It’s curious because I’m not sure entirely what scientific evidence was used to make these decisions,” said Jenne.

“We instead have adopted a strategy to better protect lives and better protect the overall ability to deliver care to Canadians.”

It’s the opposite of what we’re seeing everywhere else.

Here, we’re targeting the elderly first despite their overall infection rate being lower.

“Mostly because grandparents don’t tend to live with their children, they tend to live on their own. And the downside to that is when they’re living in places like long-term care homes and infection sets in, we know that the death rates, even though the levels of infections are low, can be quite high,” said Jha.

Other reasons for the Indonesian approach could be because the Chinese vaccine being used in that region isn’t as effective in older populations. But there are questions about whether any vaccine stops transmission.

“So, using a vaccine that may not have the same level of efficacy in limiting viral spread as a strategy to limit viral spread may not work out very well,” said Jenne.

With 80 per cent of the country’s 270 million people considered to be among the working population, the program could lead to a wealth of knowledge for the rest of the world.

“One thing I do hope they have is a registry of everyone vaccinated with their cell numbers and contact details and they follow up all of the people vaccinated young people old people and ask how are you doing a few months later or resurvey to see if they’ve developed immunity,” said Jha.