The alarming news called the Sinovac vaccine into question, particularly since it is being used in many developing countries to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Adib Khumaidi, leader of the IMA's coronavirus mitigation group, said that they are currently trying to confirm the vaccination status of the 16 other doctors.
Based on the group's latest figures, about 20 doctors who were fully vaccinated with Sinovac died from coronavirus within a five-month period. The figure accounts for over a fifth of the total fatalities among doctors during that time span.
However, the figure can still increase within the following weeks as Indonesia continues to contain an increase in infections while hospitals all over the archipelago continue to fill up.
Indonesian authorities report that the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is dominant in several areas like the capital, Jakarta. Doctors are worried as hospitals fill up while more young people are getting infected.
They added that "patients are getting sicker more quickly" compared to earlier outbreaks.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus was first detected in India and it now adds to a steadily skyrocketing wave of infections. The strain, also called B.1.617.2, has now spread to at least 70 countries like the U.K.
Health officials warn that the Delta variant is delaying a planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions across the globe.
But despite the recorded deaths, public health researchers insist that the authorities must thoroughly investigate the deaths of the vaccinated doctors to figure out if there were other factors, like poor hospital care or chronic underlying illnesses, involved. The researchers added that they need more data, including how many vaccinated doctors overall were infected with coronavirus, which Indonesia’s health ministry isn’t tracking.
The IMA reported that at least 90 percent of Indonesian doctors (about 160,000) received the Sinovac vaccine, adding that the vaccinated doctors who died "are only a tiny percentage of the total." (Related: Post-covid vaccine illness “wave” spreads to Indonesia.)
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in the U.K., explained that the news that fully vaccinated Indonesian doctors died because of the coronavirus "isn’t necessarily surprising." Hunter suggests that the deaths may have also occurred because the Sinovac vaccine wasn't as effective as the other available vaccines.
Hunter concluded that Indonesian hospitals don’t always have the same machinery and capacity to handle severe cases as hospitals, especially compared to countries with better healthcare systems.
Indonesia is depending heavily on the Sinovac vaccine, which was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use. Despite the approval, some public health experts have voiced their concerns about the degree of protection the Sinovac vaccine provides and how long the protection lasts because of its "wide-ranging efficacy levels from different clinical trials and a lack of transparency about the data."
According to a study from Brazil, the Sinovac vaccine's efficacy in preventing symptomatic infections was as low as 50 percent although the vaccine has shown higher efficacy in preventing severe cases of infection.
Back in April, authorities in Chile reported that the Sinovac vaccine was 80 percent effective against death from coronavirus at least two weeks after receiving the second dose.
In May, Indonesian authorities said that a retrospective study comparing how vaccinated and unvaccinated doctors in Jakarta had fared against coronavirus revealed that the Sinovac vaccine was very effective in preventing death.
But the study was conducted before the current wave of infections, which is mostly caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant and resulted in a devastating surge in India. There is no record of exactly how many doctors who died in Indonesia in June were infected with the Delta variant.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a government spokeswoman, explained that the doctors’ deaths should be investigated to determine if the vaccine was truly ineffective.
In other overwhelmed areas in Indonesia, like Kudus in Central Java, the bulk of the several hundred vaccinated health workers infected with coronavirus reported mild symptoms and made quick recoveries.
Data from the IMA also revealed that the death toll among doctors is down from the country’s last surge back in December and January, during which vaccinations had just begun and at least 60 doctors died in each of the two months from coronavirus. As of June, 26 doctors have died.
In Surabaya, a large city in East Java province, Eko Sonny Tejolaksito died from coronavirus early in June.
Tejolaksito, a 54-year old radiologist, was fully vaccinated with Sinovac’s shot earlier in 2021, explained Dr. Catur Budi Keswardiono, a close friend of his.
Keswardiono worked with Tejolaksito at a hospital in a neighboring town. The latter had high blood pressure and diabetes, making him more vulnerable to complications from the virus.
When Tejolaksito tested positive for coronavirus, his condition wasn’t that severe and he sought treatment at a local hospital without an intensive-care unit. Within the next two days, his health quickly deteriorated and preparations were made to transfer him to a ventilator-equipped hospital. Unfortunately, Tejolaksito died before the transfer.
Jin Dong-Yan, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Hong Kong, said that the authorities should consider booster shoots after the deaths, even though they suggest that the vaccines are rather ineffective. Dong-Yan added that medical workers in Indonesia should be given another dose of the Sinovac vaccine or a U.S.-developed shot for "stronger protection."
Khumaidi also called for booster shots since experts have yet to determine "how long the antibodies last."
Go to Vaccines.news for updated reports on other deaths related to coronavirus vaccines.