Influencers among first in line for jabs

Thumbs up: Raffi receiving a shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta. — Reuters

JAKARTA: Among the first in the queue for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia has been one conspicuous group – social media influencers.

Alongside President Joko Widodo as the world’s fourth most populous country kicked off its vaccination drive on Wednesday was Indonesian television personality, Raffi Ahmad, who boasts almost 50 million followers on Instagram.

“Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), a vaccine... Don’t be afraid of vaccines, ” the 33-year-old celebrity wrote under a video of him receiving the shot, next to a heart emoji and another of Indonesia’s red and white flag.

Deciding who should be first in line for limited vaccine doses has been a challenge around the world, with many countries prioritising vulnerable medics and the elderly.

Senior health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said the decision to include influencers alongside almost 1.5 million healthcare workers in the first round of jabs was a deliberate government communications strategy.

Although Indonesia faces the most severe coronavirus outbreak in South-East Asia – with more than 869,000 cases and 25,000 deaths – there has been scepticism around the safety and efficacy of any vaccine.

Indonesians are among the top global users of social media platforms.

The health ministry did not say how many infuencers would be first in the vaccine line, but others due to receive a shot yesterday included musicians Ariel, of the band Noah, and Risa Saraswati.

Ahyani Raksanagara, head of Bandung’s health agency, said the artistes would “hopefully convey positive influence and messages” about the vaccines, especially to youth.

A poll last month showed just 37% of Indonesians were willing to be vaccinated while 40% would consider it and 17% refused.

The decision to include social media influencers on the priority list backfired somewhat when photos of Raffi showed him partying hours after he was given the injection – which does not confer immediate immunity.

The images of him unmasked and flouting social distancing protocols with a group of friends drew criticism on social media.

Police said they were investigating whether Raffi, who has offered a public apology, broke the law. — Reuters

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