The country is prioritising its social media stars in an effort to encourage public acceptance of the vaccine – the decision has been met with mixed reactions
At the end of last year, the news we’d all been waiting for arrived: there was finally a vaccine for COVID-19. With an unprecedented turnaround, scientists around the world developed not one, but nine successful vaccines, paving the way for our return to normal life.
So, with vaccines at the ready, the next question was: ‘Who gets it first?’ In most countries, health workers, the elderly, and the clinically vulnerable have been prioritised; in Indonesia, however, it’s social media influencers.
Indonesian actor and influencer Raffi Ahmad was one of the first people in the country to receive the vaccine, getting his shot on the same day as the president. In a caption accompanying an Instagram video of him getting the jab, Ahmad told his 49.6 million followers: “Don’t be afraid of vaccines.”
According to Reuters, just 37 per cent of Indonesians have said they’re willing to be vaccinated, while 40 per cent say they’ll consider it, and 17 per cent say they’ll refuse. The country has so far recorded over 900,000 coronavirus cases and almost 26,000 deaths.
Speaking to VICE, Jennifer Yang Hui, a researcher at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said: “The Indonesian government’s choice to prioritise influencers in its vaccination strategy is related to its decision to prioritise the working population. While it may seem contrary to what other countries are doing, which is to vaccinate the vulnerable older population and healthcare practitioners, there is valid rationale behind this line of thinking.”
“Historically, some incidents of social unrest in Indonesia have been linked to economic downturns,” she continued, citing the May 1998 riots – a result of the Asian Financial Crisis. “Keeping the economy stable during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for Indonesia. Using influencers to reach the working population who may be more inclined to trust their messages is seen as a way to keep the economy afloat and prevent any unwanted side effects of an economic downturn in the long run.”
This strategy has, unsurprisingly, garnered mixed reactions from the Indonesian public, helped in no part by the fact that Ahmad attended a party just hours after getting his jab. The influencer has since issued an apology on Instagram, writing: “Last night’s incident was purely due to my negligence. I also hope my friends and all Indonesian people will continue to follow health protocols, even though vaccinations are ongoing.”
With so many people in Indonesia sceptical of receiving the vaccine, the ploy to use social media influencers as a marketing technique does, TBF, seem like a good idea – but, only if they influence for good, not bad.