Indonesia gives Covid-19 vaccines to celebrities to convince public of safety

The policy came under fire when a celebrity who got inoculated first appeared to flout safety measures hours later.

Kayla Wong | January 18, 2021, 09:06 PM

The Indonesian government has sought social media influencers and celebrities to take part in the country's first round of Covid-19 inoculations, alongside healthcare workers, military leaders and other representatives.

The country received its first shipment of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines on Dec. 6 last year, and started its vaccine drive on Jan. 13 with a big publicity push.

Government wanted to use influencers to persuade more people to receive the jab

Indonesia's senior health ministry official, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the government had made the decision to include influencers in the first round of shots in order to encourage Indonesians to go for their jabs, Reuters reported.

Doubts about the vaccination, such as whether it is halal, still linger among the Muslim-majority population, which is also among the top social media users in the world.

A survey conducted among 1,202 respondents from Dec. 16 and 19 last year found that only 37 per cent of those polled were willing to be inoculated once the vaccines became available to the public, The Jakarta Post reported.

"We hope they can help in their way of educating the public and set an example that vaccinations are safe and important," Indonesia's health ministry said.

Celebrity slammed for flouting safety distancing rules shortly after getting vaccinated

33-year-old Indonesian actor and singer Raffi Ahmad, known for his vast wealth, received the shot along with President Joko Widodo.

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A post shared by Raffi Ahmad and Nagita Slavina (@raffinagita1717)

Other celebrities who received the shot included Ariel, the lead singer of a popular rock band, and singer Risa Saraswati.

Mere hours after getting vaccinated, however, Raffi, who has more than 49.5 million followers on Instagram, allegedly attended a social gathering without a mask, The Jakarta Post reported.

Pictures of him and other public figures at the event, such as racer Sean Gelael and actor Gading Marten, subsequently went viral on social media, and he was slammed for not observing Covid-19 safety guidelines following his vaccination.

Social media users, including actress Sherina Munaf, also voiced their disappointment with Raffi for not setting a good example to his followers despite getting selected to receive the shot before most people did.

Raffi later issued an apology video, adding that the gathering was held at a private home, not a public space, and all guests had adhered to safety protocols before entering the home.

The Indonesian health ministry said it has reprimanded him.

Government campaign criticised

The government's dishing out of vaccines to influencers and celebrities first before ordinary Indonesians, especially in the wake of the incident involving Raffi, has not sat well with everyone.

Besides considerable chatter on Twitter from users who questioned the efficacy of the government's move, experts have weighed in on the issue as well.

Laura Navika Yamani, an epidemiologist, told South China Morning Post that "just because Raffi Ahmad has been vaccinated it doesn't mean that all Indonesians will follow his step."

In addition, Irma Hidayana, co-founder of LaporCovid-19, told Financial Times that the government is simply wasting the vaccines as they would be unable to track Raffi's behaviour during the pandemic.

Drawbacks of using celebrities

The Covid-19 volunteer group also carried out a survey that revealed that only about one per cent of respondents trusted celebrities when it comes to public health information, as compared to a much higher number of people trusting public health experts and the government more.

The Indonesian government has often invited influencers to help promote its policies.

However, the practice has been criticised, for the government was seen as possibly using influencers to overshadow potential problems.

It was also revealed that influencers promoted policies even without any knowledge of what they were asked to promote, according to The Jakarta Post.

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Top image via Raffi Ahmad/Instagram