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Indonesia choosing to vaccinate working adults before the elderly

Efforts underway to achieve global immunization from COVID
Efforts underway to achieve global immunizati... 01:55

Indonesia has announced plans to give the COVID-19 vaccine to working-age adults ahead of the elderly. While the U.S. is prioritizing vaccines for health care workers and the elderly, Indonesia has a reason for vaccinating younger people first.

The aim is to reach herd immunity and revive the economy by vaccinating working people next after frontline health workers and public servants, Reuters reports.

Indonesia is using a vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech. The country will also receive shipments of the Pfizer vaccine and the vaccine by AstraZeneca and Oxford University later this year, according to Reuters.

As for the choice to vaccine younger adults before the elderly, Peter Collignon, professor of infectious diseases at Australian National University, told Reuters that Indonesia's strategy could slow the spread of COVID-19 but might not affect mortality rates. 

"Indonesia doing it different to the U.S. and Europe is of value, because it will tell us (whether) you'll see a more dramatic effect in Indonesia than Europe or U.S. because of the strategy they're doing," he said, adding, "I don't think anybody knows the answer."

Professor Dale Fisher from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore said he sees merit in both strategies.

"Younger working adults are generally more active, more social and travel more so this strategy should decrease community transmission faster than vaccinating older individuals," he told Reuters. "Of course, older people are more at risk of severe disease and death, so vaccinating those has an alternative rationale." 

Another contributing factor to Indonesia's strategy is that the Sinovac vaccine was tested in clinical trials on people between the ages of 18 and 59, and there isn't enough data yet on the vaccine's efficacy on elderly people, according to Reuters.

Countries like the U.S. and U.K. have begun immunizations with vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which were shown to work well in in people of all ages. Since the elderly are most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19, seniors are the first age group set to receive vaccinations in the U.S. and U.K. after frontline health care workers.

However, in the U.S. there has been a lag in administering vaccines so far. The Trump administration made an initial pledge to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020, but the CDC reports only about 4.5 million people have received their first dose as of January 2, out of about 15 million doses that have shipped. 

And while prioritization tiers have been laid out in federal and state guidelines, there were some early delays in deploying the vaccine to long-term care facilities

Nursing homes have suffered some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country, with over 127,000 coronavirus deaths at such facilities in 2020, according to The COVID Tracking Project. As of December, nursing homes accounted for as much as 40% of U.S. deaths from the virus. 

On CBS's "Face The Nation" Sunday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, urged officials to make the vaccines more broadly available to people ages 65 and older to accelerate the pace of vaccinations.

"Make the vaccine more generally available through the retail pharmacies, through Walmart and Walgreens and CVS to a broader population, to a general population starting with age," Gottlieb said. 

"We can walk it down the age continuum, make it available for 75 and above first, then 70 and above, and 65 and above," he continued. "There's 50 million Americans 65 and above, a large percentage of them probably want to be vaccinated. At some point, we need to allow supply to meet demand here and get the shots into the arms of the people who really want to get vaccinated and are going to go out and seek out the vaccination."

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