Beyond Vaccines: The Importance of Sustainable Policy in Indonesia after COVID-19

Ensuring a balance between urbanization and care for the environment is one factor that can better prepare us for future pandemics beyond vaccines. Credit: JP/Seto Wardhana


President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) recent announcement of Indonesia’s vaccination plan sparked several contradictory effects. Economically, Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) strengthen by 0.07% or IDR 14.080/US$ after the plan was announced. Prior to the announcement, IDR weakened by 0.32% or IDR 14.135/US$. Stock spending also increased by 2%.

Conversely, the announcement triggered Indonesians to neglect COVID-19 safety protocols such as physical distancing, washing hands, and wearing face masks. Shortly after the announcement, only 9% of the 512 regencies and municipalities complied with the face mask-wearing rule, and barely 4% adhered to the physical distancing rule. Ominously after the announcement, Indonesia continued to set new daily records of COVID-19 infections. This suggests the early impacts of these safety breaches.

These should serve as a warning for GoI that their vaccination plan may not encourage its citizens to maintain their health, through these safety protocols, despite eliciting a positive effect on Indonesia’s economy. Additionally, it is pertinent for GoI to remember that the main objective of the COVID-19 vaccine is not only for short-medium term outcomes, namely reducing infection rates and strengthening the economy. It is also for medium-long term outcomes where the government, its citizens, and the private sector develop a system to prevent future pandemics while ensuring that issues faced during this pandemic are better handled in the future.

COVID-19: Problems of Health and Environment

There are two problems with COVID-19. First concerns health. COVID-19 infected individuals could either be asymptomatic or symptomatic with symptoms such as pneumonia, dry cough, and high fever. Early research suggests that asymptomatic individuals were 42% less likely to transmit the virus than symptomatic individuals. However, in highly populated cities of developing countries such as Jakarta, Indonesia, these asymptomatic individuals assist in accelerating infections. This is especially so when testing in most countries are targeted at those with symptoms. This means that not only would these asymptomatic individuals perpetuate the pandemic, people infected by these individuals may become symptomatic and are at risk of succumbing to the virus.

Second, the initial discovery that COVID-19 was due to the human consumption of bats indicates an environmental issue. Although this finding is still debatable, some have expanded on this by suggesting the origins of COVID-19 to be from a wet market that sold livestock and wild animals such as bats in close proximity to each other. The virus proceeded to undergo mutations and eventually infected humans.

These two problems are, however, not new nor are unique to COVID-19. Countries including Indonesia have experienced these issues prior to this pandemic.

In addition to COVID-19, Indonesia continues to experience several health concerns. Of these health concerns such as respiratory diseases, Indonesians are still at risk from dying of diseases that are either preventable or manageable. Attributing to this is the lack of care for personal health, unknowingly due to the lack of education or intentional such as continuing unhealthy habits. Though the severity of these health concerns has been overshadowed by COVID-19, these problems still exist with some not having a vaccine solution.

Indonesia also continues to struggle with environmental problems which can develop into health issues. For example, Indonesia has the highest levels of polluted air quality with 90% caused by motor-vehicle emissions and by forest fires linked to palm-oil plantation developments. Exposing 32 million Indonesian children to such environmental problems have led to a decrease in intelligence quotient (IQ) by 2 points. Additionally, practices of selling wild animals can also be found in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, Indonesia have yet to develop efficient policies to address these issues. For example, Indonesia only have broad health measures targeted at the community level. Such broad measures also lack any instrumentations and details of how such policy works, especially how government and society relate to each other. While GoI allocates 5% of state spending for these community health measures, the society still faces issues with maintaining their health and the environment. These problems highlight how chronic these problems are, particularly when correlation studies as well as comprehensive policies managing both simultaneously are absent. Furthermore, these demonstrate why vaccines are not holistic and sustainable solutions and why Indonesia should further develop health and environment management systems post-COVID-19.

Sustainable Policy: Beyond Vaccines

Herd immunity can develop without vaccines. From history, the Spanish Flu pandemic was eventually mitigated due to the development of herd immunity when most became immune to the virus. The reliance on non-pharmaceutical interventions demonstrate why herd immunity is not solely dependent on medicine, vaccine, or any chemical intervention. Pharmaceutical interventions simply expedite herd immunity. Therefore, herd immunity can be achieved by allowing the human body to build a natural resilience against the pathogen. To achieve this communal protection, it is thus crucial for people to maintain their health such as through good personal hygiene and their environment, reducing the opportunities for pathogens to mutate. Noteworthily, the Spanish Flu also saw the initial use of using face masks as used currently to stem infections.

By understanding that vaccines are not the ultimate solution, the next steps should be for Indonesia to develop policies to manage future pandemics sustainably. These policies should be comprehensively discussed by government, private and societal necessities, as evident in governance where service, profit, and democratic values are integrated.

Sustainable Policy, an upgraded version of Sustainable Development, provides a way forward. Sustainable Policy centres on the principle that sustainability is not only achievable via people, planet, and profit approaches. It is also achieved by ensuring the future viability of our planet and all its diverse communities by education and advocacy. Furthermore, Sustainable Policy is also the belief that the creation of a sustainable society is via protecting and enhancing social, environmental and economic impacts that are important as Indonesia develops. These principles and beliefs of Sustainable Policy should drive policies in Indonesia, especially after this pandemic. Such policies can, thus, assist Indonesia to fully utilize its resources. From past instances, Indonesia has yet to do so. One recent example is how Indonesia has amassed one of the highest number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the world despite possessing a tropical climate. A tropical climate should have impeded the spread of COVID-19 as compared to colder climates.

An example of how Sustainable Policy can help Indonesia better mitigate future pandemics is via food management. To improve the health of its citizens, Indonesia can implement a more rigorous food hygiene policy. Learning from the UK government, Indonesia should require merchants to pass a hygiene test before being allowed to sell their food products. With better hygiene awareness, it could ensure higher food safety, thus help prevent a future COVID-19-like pandemic. However, Indonesia will require time to implement such policies due to the need for proper infrastructure and manpower training.

Nevertheless, such policies must also be complemented with an equally rigorous environmental policy. This ensures that the cleanliness of venues selling and distributing food are regulated. This is imperative because despite possessing a food safety regulation, 36.55% of distribution facilities in Indonesia did not meet food safety requirements.  Furthermore, only 46 traditional markets in Indonesia possess a certificate of cleanliness. This is far from the target of 15,657 markets.

Collectively, these highlight the need for Sustainable Policy to be discussed by numerous stakeholders such as the government, private sector, and society, both within institutional and non-institutional contexts. Institutional context entails Sustainable Policy to be embedded within the general processes of policymaking while non-institutional context refers to the integrity of those responsible for implementing and upholding Sustainable Policy. Both contexts are essential to be discussed with regards to matters such as state budget. Within the institutional context, institutions must first ensure that state budget is allocated towards health, environmental and social interests. Subsequently, those responsible must ensure that state funds allocated for Sustainable Policy are free from corruption. This reinforces the need for the involvement of GoI, private sector and society to ensure that Sustainable Policy is implemented efficiently.

In this tripartite alliance, the society is essential in tying policies formulated by the government with the financial contributions from the private sector. With a well-functioning tripartite alliance, Sustainable Policy that is implemented will not only be able to response better to similar health threats in the future, but will also instil healthier and more environmentally-friendly lifestyles in future generations.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence. Republications minimally require 1) credit authors and their institutions, and 2) credit to STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD  and include a link back to either our home page or the article URL.


  • Satria Aji Imawan currently holds a Master degree in Public Administration with various experience working with various organizations. His research interest is on Behaviour Public Policy, Sustainable Policy, and Public Management. Satria Aji Imawan can be contacted by Facebook, Linkedin, and/or email.

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