Reaching herd immunity can be fairly a problem for Asia: UN official

SINGAPORE – Achieving herd immunity to Covid-19 could be difficult for developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, a UN official told CNBC.

Herd immunity refers to the situation in which a disease cannot easily spread within a population because most people have become immune to it either from vaccination or from previous infection.

Around 60% to 70% of the population must be vaccinated to reach this state, said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

“I think that’s quite a challenge,” she told CNBC “Street Signs Asia” On Wednesday.

“If we look at the data so far, the progress has been quite modest with the exception of some advanced countries,” she said during an interview at the Asian Development Bank’s Southeast Asia Virtual Development Symposium.

Although some countries have placed vaccine orders and others may even have supplies on hand, “implementation on the ground is quite slow,” she added.

Further challenges during the rollout

There are other challenges to successful vaccination programs as well.

Alisjahbana named the timely supply, limited financial resources and poor logistics infrastructure as obstacles that stand in the way of developing countries. Another approach is equitable access, which refers to equitable distribution to all who need it.

Richer nations have snapped up vaccines and placed bulk orders, poorer developing countries are at the bottom of the queue. Many of these countries may not have the money to buy enough cans.

A medical professional holds Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin vials during the nationwide vaccination campaign in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India on Saturday, February 6, 2021.

Vishal Bhatnagar | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Alisjahbana pointed out that there is help in the form of Covax, a global alliance trying to provide vaccines to poorer countries – but the supply is still limited for now.

“One of the main problems – especially now because it is still like that Early (in) the vaccination program and its implementation – is the adequate supply, “she said.

However, she noted that production is increasing and more vaccines are being approved by the World Health Organization and national authorities.

“I hope the vaccination schedule will be accelerated in the coming months, including in developing countries,” she said.

She expects vaccinations to increase in the second half of the year and further accelerate in 2022.

If countries can be consistent and speed up vaccinations for high-risk groups and key workers, economies and borders can open, she said.

“Economic activities, including tourism and so on, (the) flow of goods, the flow of people can resume,” Alisjahbana said.

Indonesia will take not less than a 12 months to achieve Covid ‘herd immunity’: Minister

Pedestrians walk past a mural depicting Indonesia’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Jakarta on August 16, 2020.

Feature China | Barcroft Media via Getty Images

SINGAPORE – Indonesia will take at least a year for a sufficient portion of its population to be immune to Covid-19, the country’s finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told CNBC, stressing that the government must continue spending to support the economy.

“We see that the pandemic is not waning and we need to remain vigilant,” Sri Mulyani told CNBC on Monday as part of reporting on Davos Agenda of the World Economic Forum.

Indonesia started its Covid-19 vaccination program Earlier this month after approval for an emergency Vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Sri Mulyani said conservative estimates by experts showed it takes Indonesia about 15 months to vaccinate around 180 million people to reach “Herd Immunity.” This occurs when enough people in a population develop protection against a disease so that it can no longer easily spread.

We see the pandemic is not easing and we need to remain vigilant.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati

Finance Minister, Indonesia

But President Joko Widodo wants to “speed up” this process to achieve herd immunity within 12 months – which is a “daunting task,” said Sri Mulyani, given the geographic spread of the country. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago nation with around 250 million inhabitants on thousands of islands.

Meanwhile, Philippine Finance Minister Carlos Dominguez told CNBC – in a separate interview that is also part of the coverage of the Davos Agenda – that his country could vaccinate “the majority of the population” by the end of 2021.

The Philippines are slated to receive their first batch of Covid vaccines next month, Dominguez said. He hasn’t specified the source of these vaccines, however an Associated Press report The country expects 50,000 cans of China’s Sinovac to be shipped.

Government spending

Indonesia and the Philippines have the highest number of cumulative Covid cases in Southeast Asia, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Indonesia has reported more than 989,200 cumulative infections and over 27,800 deaths. While the Philippines recorded more than 513,600 cases and over 10,200 deaths, Hopkins data showed.

Dominguez said the Philippine government has provided funding for the country’s vaccination program, which is estimated to cost an estimated 82.5 billion Philippine pesos ($ 1.7 billion).

Similarly, Sri Mulyani said Indonesia would prioritize spending on vaccines as well as continued support for low-income households and small businesses. She added that the government had targeted a budget deficit of 5.7% of gross domestic product this year, which is below the previous year’s deficit of 6.1% of GDP.

The Indonesian finance minister said her country weathered the economic blow of the pandemic “relatively well” compared to many countries in the region and the G-20 ethnic group.

The economy is expected to shrink “the deepest” in 2020, around 2.2% before recovering to around 5% growth this year, she added.