JAKARTA - Countries in Southeast Asia are struggling to increase vaccination rates among their peoples, with less than 10 percent of the population in many of them completing at least one vaccine shot to protect against the coronavirus.
The region is also where China is actively conducting "vaccine diplomacy" in a purported effort to increase its influence, but some people, including Japanese expatriates, remain skittish about using Chinese vaccines over safety concerns.
Indonesia, the most populous country in Southeast Asia with over 270 million people, is also the country with the most infections in the region, with some 1.9 million cases to date. The government has been giving people free vaccine shots since January.
Even though jabs have also been given to workers and their families since mid-May -- paid for by their employers -- roughly 7 percent of the population had completed at least one shot as of June 9.
The company-funded inoculation drive uses Chinese vaccines and also covers foreigners.
One Indonesia-based Japanese employee in marketing thought of getting vaccinated when returning to Japan for a temporary visit, but decided against it because of a mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
But the employee confided a desire to get vaccinated in Japan, so as to get inoculated with a non-Chinese vaccine. Japan has so far approved vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc.
The Philippines has approved eight vaccine products for use, including those developed in the United States, China and Russia. But vaccinations have yet to gain traction, and people cannot choose the type of vaccine they receive.
"As Japanese, we want to get inoculated with the vaccines approved in Japan," Nobuo Fujii, vice president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, said, expressing hope that Japanese expatriates in the Philippines will be able to get vaccinated at Japanese diplomatic missions there.
In Singapore, over 40 percent of its people have received at least one shot of vaccine. Vaccination, which is now available to people as young as 12, has been undertaken by not just medical professionals but temporary workers, including university students looking for jobs.
Vietnam is credited with keeping total infections at a relatively low level -- about 10,000 cases so far -- but it is struggling to secure vaccine doses.
That is in large measure because, with historical anti-China sentiment strong among the public, Vietnam has not received vaccine supplies from China. It is the only country without Chinese vaccines among the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
As of June 8, less than 2 percent of its population had been given at least one vaccine shot.
Japan, eager to curry favor with countries in the region as it pursues its own vaccine diplomacy, donated 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Vietnam on Wednesday.
Tokyo is also considering donating COVID-19 vaccine to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand in July, according to Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
Safety concerns and low efficacy rates had often been cited to avoid Chinese vaccines. But after approving Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use in May, the World Health Organization on June 1 approved a second Chinese vaccine, Sinovac.
The Chinese government quickly seized on the development to say that the WHO authorization has validated Chinese vaccines' safety and efficacy.
After ASEAN and China held a foreign ministers meeting on June 7, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi credited the country with playing an important role in inoculating people in ASEAN, expressing hope for further supplies of Chinese vaccines.
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