The chief scientist of China made Sinovac vaccine trials in Indonesia is suspected to have died from Covid-19 infection according to Indonesian media reports.

Novilia Sjafri Bachtiar was reportedly working with the state-owned pharmaceuticals company BioFarma as their lead scientist, at the time of her demise.

The death of the Chief scientist and 131 health workers as also the rising rate of Covid cases in Indonesia where Sinovac vaccines have been used very widely has raised serious questions about the efficacy of the Chinese made vaccines.

The state enterprises minister, Erick Thorir called her demise a “huge loss” for BioFarma. He said, “She was lead scientist and head of dozens of clinical trials done by BioFarma, including Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials in cooperation with Sinovac,” he posted on Instagram. “It has been produced and injected into tens of millions people in Indonesia, as part of our effort to be free from this Covid-19 pandemic.”

Though the minister has refrained from mentioning write the cause of her death, the Kumparan news service agency reportedly stated that Ms Bachtiar died from Covid-19 infection. The Sinodews has reportedly quoted officials at the BioFarma, that she has been buried according to Covid-19 protocol.

With her death and increase in Covid cases, questions are being raised over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine that has been widely used in the country’s inoculation drive. Thousands of health workers in Indonesia who have been fully vaccinated with Sinovac are infected with Covid according to media reports. An independent study by a data group, Lapor Covid-19 found that 131 health workers who mostly received Sinovac shots, have died from coronavirus since June. Of these, about 50 died in July, said the report.

According to the Hindustan Times, the deputy chief of the Indonesian Medical Association told the parliament on Monday that, “There’s a lot of doctors and medical workers who have been vaccinated twice but endured medium and severe symptoms, or even died.”

The report of the Chief scientist’s death comes at a time when the there is a raging surge in the Covid cases in the South-Asian nation. Indonesia on Wednesday reportedly recorded 34,379 new cases and 1,040 Covid deaths, nearly double the deaths recorded two days ago.

Reuters reported that Sinovac’s spokesperson Liu Peicheng claimed that their preliminary reports showed that Sinovac demonstrated a three-fold reduction in neutralising the Delta variant. He is said to have claimed that a booster dose following the two shots could lead to a better immune response against the Delta variant. However, there was no data provided to back his claim.

As per media reports countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates which used Chinese vaccines to inoculate their citizens have already started administering booster shots due to efficacy concerns. Indonesia grappling record-breaking surge in fresh Covid-19 cases and deaths, triggered the highly contagious British Delta variant. With low vaccination coverage of 1.6% of total population and almost total dependency on Chinese vaccines, it is highly unlikely that the fourth most populous nation in the world is going to make any significant change in the vaccine policy.

News input: Independent, Reuters, Hindustan Times

Image sourced from Hindustan Times.

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