When COVID-19 vaccines were first available in early 2021 in Indonesia, Human Resource Supervisor Eltruidis Widyarsanti had to scramble to secure vaccines for the hundreds of employees at the garment factory she oversaw in Semarang, Central Java.
She searched everywhere – from universities and hospitals to private companies – in a bid to vaccinate her employees. She wanted her employees to feel safe and avoid the worst of the COVID-19 spread, which could otherwise hurt the business and the workers, putting many employees on leave due to illness. Central Java was suffering a vaccine shortage, and options were limited.
“It was difficult, which is why we kept trying so that everyone [at the factory] could be vaccinated,” said Widyarsanti.
Finally, she was able to find enough different facilities with open slots and began making appointments for employees. Yet, despite her efforts, at least half of the employees refused to be vaccinated. She recalled that many feared that they would test positive for COVID-19 after being inoculated, while others were worried about the vaccines’ potential side effects.
The culture of fear, however, did not cause her efforts to wane. She ramped up her personal campaign to spread awareness about the vaccines by telling each division’s supervisors to disseminate COVID-19 vaccine information during daily briefings. The company also posted flyers and installed a television near the factory’s entrance to broadcast information on the COVID-19 vaccines.
These efforts contributed to an increase in employees that were willing to get the vaccines in the following months, especially after the government required Indonesians to be vaccinated to enter certain buildings and public facilities.
Now, around 95 percent of the employees in Widyarsanti’s employer’s factories are vaccinated.
As Widyarsanti’s experience indicates, COVID-19 vaccination efforts can start from a single person or a single factory. This peer-to-peer education will become increasingly important as Indonesia aims to vaccinate around 208 million people – or about three-fourths of the population – by March 2022.
Around 105 million people have been fully vaccinated as of December 2021, since the public rollout began on January 13, 2020, according to the Indonesian Health Ministry’s website.
To help smooth the challenging process, the ILO office in Indonesia, together with its Better Work programme, joined hands with the Indonesian Employers’ Association (Apindo) to help the garment industry access and facilitate the government’s vaccination program. The project received funding from The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – Occupational Safety and Health (BMZ-OSH) program. Through collaboration – with the government supplying the vaccines, and Apindo and ILO/Better Work coordinating logistics and providing locations – the number of workers vaccinated has soared.
To date, the program has administered 21,120 COVID-19 vaccine doses to workers, their families and residents near factories through 12 vaccination centers, including at eight locations in factories under the Better Work Indonesia programme. Widyarsanti was one of the key advocates who helped spread the information about Better Work Indonesia’s vaccination program to her employees.
One of Widyarsanti’s employees, Indah Rayuningsih, is living proof of how such an effort can lead to increased understanding, acceptance, and ultimately administration of the vaccine . Rayuningsih said she was afraid of the vaccines at first, amid the rampant misinformation spread about COVID-19, with one source even claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines could kill its recipients.
However, she changed her mind after witnessing how smoothly the vaccination went for her family members and tried it herself. She now persuades her fellow co-workers who have yet to be vaccinated to get inoculated against the virus.
“I hope that [coworkers who have not vaccinated yet] change their minds, so that we can all be healthy and safe from COVID-19” said Rayuningsih. “Don’t worry about the vaccine. Take me as an example, I turned out to be fine.”