Lead Sinovac scientist dies of suspected Covid-19 as Indonesia mulls booster shot

  • The death of a leading Indonesian scientist has added questions to the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine which has been widely used in the fourth-most populous nation.
Across Indonesia, the coronavirus pandemic is again spreading rapidly with bursting beyond capacity and oxygen supplies are running out.(AP)
Across Indonesia, the coronavirus pandemic is again spreading rapidly with bursting beyond capacity and oxygen supplies are running out.(AP)
Published on Jul 08, 2021 04:48 PM IST
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By | Edited by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The lead scientist on China’s Sinovac vaccine trials in Indonesia died of suspected coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Wednesday, according to the Indonesian media. The death of Novilia Sjafri Bachtiar has raised questions on the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine which has been widely used in the fourth-most populous nation.

Quoting an official of state-owned pharmaceuticals company BioFarma, Sindonews reported that Bachtiar was buried as per the Covid-19 protocols. Without revealing the cause of death, state enterprises minister Erick Thohir posted a message on Instagram mourning her "huge loss" at BioFarma, the company which makes the Sinovac vaccine in Indonesia.

"She was lead scientist and head of dozens of clinical trials done by BioFarma, including Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials in cooperation with Sinovac," he said.

Bachtiar's death due to Covid-19, as reported by the local media, is not an isolated case as thousands of doctors and medical workers in Indonesia have been infected and many died despite being vaccinated with Sinovac. About 131 healthcare workers, mostly vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine, have died since June, according to independent data group Lapor Covid-19.

Also Read | Indonesia doctors fell sick, many died after taking Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine: Report

The concern over the efficacy of the vaccine has prompted the country to consider offering booster shots to the medical workers inoculated against Covid-19 using Sinovac’s vaccine, according to a Reuters report. Citing preliminary data, Sinovac spokesperson Liu Peicheng told Reuters last month that the vaccine produced a three-fold reduction in neutralizing effect against the Delta variant.

"There's a lot of doctors and medical workers who have been vaccinated twice but endured medium and severe symptoms, or even died," Slamet Budiarto, deputy chief of the Indonesian Medical Association, told parliament on Monday.

Countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates that used Chinese vaccines to inoculate their citizens have already started administering booster shots amid efficacy concerns. But Indonesia is battling a record-breaking surge in new Covid-19 cases and related deaths, led by the highly contagious Delta variant. The low vaccination coverage and high dependency on Chinese vaccines are making it difficult for the Southeast Asian nation to make any drastic change in vaccination policy.

(With agency inputs)

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