Social media stars were at the front of the line last week as Indonesia launched its first mass COVID-19 vaccination rollout, according to Reuters.
The government says the controversial decision was a conscious communication approach, set in the belief that influencers will post their experience online and help convey that vaccines are safe, effective, and allowed under Islamic law.
Raffi Ahmad, a television star with 49.5 million Instagram followers, did just that on Jan. 14 when he was vaccinated live on television alongside Indonesian President Joko Widodo, singers Ariel and Risa Saraswati, and the first round of 18.7 million frontline health care and public service workers.
"Don’t be afraid of vaccines,” Ahmad wrote in the caption of a video in which he receives the jab and gives a thumbs up.
The Instagram clip has been viewed 3.6 million times.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is home to the third and fourth-largest Facebook and Instagram audiences, respectively.
The country has now recorded more than 900,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25,000 deaths, the highest rates of any country in Southeast Asia. On Saturday, Indonesia hit its highest daily average at 14,224 cases, setting a new record for the fourth consecutive day.
But despite the alarming figures, a recent poll revealed almost 70% of citizens were uncertain about taking the vaccine, according to ABC.
Indonesia’s vaccine strategy is unconventional in more ways than one.
Alongside social media stars, the government is prioritizing 17.4 million public service workers like teachers, members of the police, and bureaucrats in the first rollout of the vaccine, which will take place between January and March. Working adults aged between 18 and 59 will then follow.
Ministry of Health Spokesperson Nadia Wikeko told Al Jazeera that the elderly will initially be excluded because stage three trials of the CoronaVac Sinovac vaccine, which will be used widely throughout Indonesia, are still incomplete among people aged over 60.
Experts have been quick to criticize the strategy.
Kim Mulholland, a professor of vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says that like most other countries, Indonesia should prioritize medical staff and the elderly — especially considering Indonesians over 60 make up 39% of fatalities due to COVID-19 while representing just 10% of the population.
"We know that older people who have already been vaccinated in China and the Middle East have responded as well to the vaccines as younger people,” Mulholland told Al Jazeera. “So the argument that older people should not be vaccinated because they have not been included in trials in Indonesia is not valid.”