Thousands of Indonesian employers are signing up for a program that will allow them to purchase COVID-19 vaccines to administer to their workers—a government-approved effort to accelerate vaccine distribution, coronavirus herd immunity, a return to normal work operations and economic recovery.
Despite its laudable goals, the endeavor, dubbed Gotong Royong, or mutual cooperation, has stirred concerns about fairness and access in a country with a slow vaccination rollout.
The plan, proposed by corporate leaders, received government approval in February. By mid-March, more than 11,500 employers had registered to participate in the program through Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KADIN. KADIN is acting as an intermediary between companies and the government.
Once up and running, the corporate program is expected to deliver vaccines through private hospitals and clinics.
Indonesia’s government, meanwhile, has dispensed at least 7.88 million vaccine doses, or enough to cover 1.5 percent of the population, assuming everyone needs two doses, Reuters reported in mid-March. The country reportedly aims to vaccinate about 180 million people this year. The nation was averaging more than 5,300 new cases daily over seven days and had logged 1.43 million COVID-19 cases total as of March 16, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Indonesians will receive vaccines at no cost either through the government or, once Gotong Royong is implemented, through a private employer.
A KADIN official said in a March 12 statement that the vaccines to be used in the employer program will come from different pharmaceutical companies than those being administered by the government. The Ministry of Health was preparing instructions for the corporate program, according to the official, who hoped they’d come soon so the program could get started.
Lia Alizia, managing partner at Jakarta law firm Makarim & Taira S., said the Gotong Royong program is expected to get underway in April.
Despite benefits of the program, there also are potential downsides.
“In Indonesia, where COVID-19 is far from contained, vaccinations have great urgency. Among its benefits, the scheme lets the private sector purchase COVID-19 vaccines procured by the government and will speed vaccine distribution, leading to faster economy recovery,” according to Jakarta-based Budidjaja firm in an e-mail. The program will ease the government’s burden in distributing and paying for vaccines, the firm said.
Policy opponents might argue that the program will create inequity as employees are prioritized to get vaccinated. The program might also steer the limited vaccines toward the middle and upper classes, including those with special relationships with companies instead of toward more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, according to the firm.
Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia, noted that KADIN intends the program to supplement, not supplant, Indonesia’s public-sector vaccination program. The program could raise ethical issues that won’t necessarily be limited to Indonesia, however, he said.
Consideration for Employers
Inequity concerns aside, participating employers will need to consider the logistics and potential legal risks.
Employers can take various steps to get ready to provide inoculations, including:
- Preparing the criteria and prioritization for vaccine recipients.
- Developing the logistics and schedule for distributing vaccines.
- Arranging to monitor and report after vaccination.
- Coordinating supervision in cooperation with the local and central governments.
Employers need to inform employees about the scientific facts surrounding the vaccines and understand the religious, medical and disability-related exceptions to inoculation requirements.
Companies should understand the potential legal liabilities surrounding participation, according to the Budidjaja firm, cautioning that such issues might touch on:
- Vaccine safety, quality and efficacy.
- Any illness or injuries as side effects and the coverage from the employee’s compensation policy.
- Company rules and disciplinary action against employees who refuse a vaccine.
Employees who agree to join an employer vaccination program should submit and sign a statement confirming their willingness and releasing and discharging the employer from liabilities for any side effects suffered after a vaccination, Alizia said. Employees should also acknowledge that they’re in good condition to be vaccinated and have consulted a doctor or medical practitioner, she added.
Since employers are required to transmit their employees’ personal data to KADIN, they should obtain the employees’ consent in writing, according to Alizia. “It is also advisable to have an executed confidentiality agreement with KADIN to ensure KADIN will maintain confidentiality of the information and secure the relevant data in their electronic system,” she said.
Jean Kim, an associate in Ogletree Deakins’ Atlanta office and member of its Cross-Border Practice Group, noted key considerations for employers participating in such programs, including deciding:
- How they will prioritize and administer the shots.
- Whether they’ll require vaccination for workplace entry.
- How they will handle an employee’s refusal to comply.
- Whether they’ll absorb the costs as an employee benefit to be a standard practice going forward.
“Indonesia is just the start,” Kim said. “Once employers are able to administer and provide vaccines to their employees around the world, we expect a large number of companies to provide the option as requirements. And once they do, there will be legal, cultural and practical considerations at play. … Companies will want to examine such considerations country by country, but also from a global perspective, especially for multinational companies focusing on global company culture.”
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.