Newsdeck

Newsdeck

Instagram influencers are a vaccine priority in wary Indonesia

In an age of unprecedented distortion of the truth through mis- and disinformation, the biggest challenge is to help people push back against this assault on truth with facts and reason, says Stuart Jones, director of projects at the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change. (Photo: latimes.com / Wikipedia)

JAKARTA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Among the first in the queue for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia has been one conspicuous group - social media influencers.

By Stanley Widianto and Kate Lamb

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 inoculations was a deliberate government communications strategy.

Although Indonesia faces the most severe coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia – with more than 869,000 cases and 25,000 deaths – there has been scepticism around the safety and efficacy of any vaccine, and in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, whether it is halal, or allowed under Islam.

Indonesians are among the top global users of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

Ahyani Raksanagara, head of Bandung’s health agency, told Reuters the artists would “hopefully convey positive influence and messages” about the vaccines, and especially to young people.

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

Some doctors have raised doubts over Indonesia’s initial use of Chinese company Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac vaccine – with studies from Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey showing efficacies ranging from 50-91%.

But in another possible boost for chances of acceptance, the country’s top Islamic council has deemed the vaccine halal.

However 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, with calls for him to set a better example.

“It also shows the government is inconsistent in prioritising who gets the vaccine first,” said Irma Hidayana, cofounder of pandemic data initiative LaporCOVID-19, “They should’ve done it with another health worker, maybe, not an influencer.”

Health ministry official Nadia noted that “when you’re vaccinated, you still have to abide by health protocols and not be careless in enforcing them”.

Zubairi Djoerban of the Indonesian Medical Association said the strategy to hire influencers could only work if “influencers are briefed about vaccine and COVID-19 so they can be agents of change”.

Police said they are investigating whether Raffi broke the law, while he has offered a public apology. (Reporting and writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney and Stanley Widianto and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Giles Elgood)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.