Fake vaccine spreads across Indonesia’s major cities

By: Fawnia Clarissa

Fake vaccines are being given across major cities in Indonesia; including Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, and several other cities in over 9 provinces. Earlier in June, police had uncovered fake vaccine syndicate; detaining 10 suspects in the process.

National Police Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) director Brig. Gen. Agung Setya revealed that the police department has received reports of children with health problems after receiving a vaccination. The syndicate operated since 2003; meaning that bogus vaccines have spread for over 13 years in Indonesia. The news instantly causes concern among anxious parents.

Indonesian Consumers Foundation chairman, Tulus Abadi gave his opinions on the matter; calling out both the Health Ministry and Drug and Food Monitoring Agency for its poor performance in fulfilling its duty to make sure that the food and drug consumed by the public is safe. He also stated that the foundation is ready to press charges against responsible parties; hoping the charges serve as a lesson for the government.

However, on the contrary, the Health Ministry released a quite shocking statement; claiming that there’s no need to panic over fake vaccines. Through its official Twitter account, @KemenkesRI, the ministry assured apprehensive parents that children vaccinated at government hospitals and local health clinics supported by the government didn’t and won’t be receiving fake vaccines. The ministry also urged parents to immunize their children only at such health service posts.

The ministry also affirmed that the counterfeit vaccines weren’t as widespread as it’s reported by the media; no more than 1 percent of the vaccines in Jakarta, Banten, and West Java were not genuine. These fake vaccines consisted of infusion liquid and antibiotic gentamicin with 0.5 cc dose per immunization were also deemed safe by the ministry. Instead, health problems increased due to unhygienic conditions after receiving the injection.

Meanwhile, educational articles that help parents to distinguish counterfeit vaccines have also been released in newspapers, magazines, and online blogs and websites. One way to easily recognize these is by taking a close look at the packaging. Poor quality packaging, blurry batch number or production code, as well as a darker-colored rubber stopper, are all clear signs of imitation vaccines. Agung also urged the parents to keep a close eye when immunizing their children. Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek also advised parents who are unsure whether their children got properly immunized or not to visit local hospitals to get them checked. If it’s proven that the vaccine that was previously administered was fake, obviously the children will need to receive immunization again.

“Economic pressure” is the main reason behind the crime

Unsurprisingly, the suspect couple – Rita Agustina and her husband revealed that economic pressure is why they started their illegal business. The counterfeit vaccine surely appealed to the public with its much affordable price compared to real vaccines; since fake vaccines are typically Rp 200.000 to Rp 400.000 (US$ 20 to US$40) cheaper. Ironically, Rita is also a graduate of the academy of nursing and claimed to work as a nurse to her neighbors. Her former colleague who is also a nurse disclosed that Rita has collected used vaccine bottles ever since she was a nurse at Rumah Sakit Ibu dan Anak (RSIA) Hermina, but never questioned her motive before the blowup of the case.

The couple may argue that economic pressures is what triggered them to commit to the crime that has put thousands of children’s life at danger. They have now earnt over Rp 100.000.000 (roughly US$ 7.650) a month, a strong sign that greed is the real motive. Distributors who join the syndicate also earnt around Rp 80.000.000 (roughly US$ 6.120) a month.

The forgery is undoubtedly driven by the high demand for cheap vaccines as parents are eager to make sure their children receive immunization. Parents may not have the income to give necessary vaccinations. As the suspect couple, also parents to two children; the youngest is no more than 5 years old, it’s unthinkable how they can endanger the lives of children all over Indonesia without feeling remorse for the last 13 years. The whole fiasco is a poor picture of the lost sense of humanity; accompanied by the lack of supervision by the authority.

As a developing country, Indonesia is constantly under risk of inconceivable and illegal activities; no matter how petty or seemingly insignificant they are. As Indonesia thrives as a more established and developed nation, authorities must take visible action to make sure that such misconducts don’t hinder the growth of the country, whilst citizens of Indonesia keenly look ahead to the authorities so they can prevent this worrisome crime.