Leading scientist with China’s Sinovac vaccine dies of suspected Covid

·2-min read
Health workers prepare equipment to treat covid-19 patients at Husada Utama hospital in Surabaya, East Java, on 8 July  2021 (AFP via Getty Images)
Health workers prepare equipment to treat covid-19 patients at Husada Utama hospital in Surabaya, East Java, on 8 July 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

The chief scientist on China’s Sinovac vaccine trials in Indonesia is suspected to have died from Covid-19 infection, according to local media reports.

Novilia Sjafri Bachtiar was working with the state-owned pharmaceuticals company BioFarma as their lead scientist, at the time of her demise.

Mourning the death of the scientist, state enterprises minister Erick Thohir called her demise a “huge loss” for BioFarma.

"She was lead scientist and head of dozens of clinical trials done by BioFarma, including Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials in cooperation with Sinovac,” he posted on Instagram. "It has been produced and injected into tens of millions people in Indonesia, as part of our effort to be free from this Covid-19 pandemic."

While he did not write the cause behind her death, the Kumparan news service agency reported that Ms Bachtiar died from Covid-19 infection. Quoting officials at the BioFarma, Sindonews also reported she has been buried according to Covid-19 protocol.

The pharma company has, however, not issued any statement on their scientist’s death.

The report of her death comes at a time when the coronavirus cases in the country are raging. Indonesia on Wednesday reported a record 34,379 new cases and 1,040 coronavirus deaths, nearly double the deaths recorded two days ago.

Only 1.6 per cent of the population of 270 million is fully vaccinated, with experts fearing that the surge driven by the highly infectious Delta variant could overwhelm the country’s already stretched healthcare infrastructure.

Hospitals in Java are already running out of oxygen, medicines, beds and staff amid the sharp rise in cases. The government is already sourcing oxygen supplies from Singapore to ease the shortage.

Questions are also being raised over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine that has been widely used in the country’s inoculation drive. An independent study by a data group, Lapor Covid-19 found that 131 health workers who mostly received Sinovac shots, have died from coronavirus since June. Of these, about 50 died in July, said the report.

Sinovac’s spokesperson Liu Peicheng told Reuters that their preliminary reports showed that Sinovac demonstrated a three-fold reduction in neutralising the Delta variant.

He said a booster dose following the two shots could lead to a better immune response against the Delta variant. However, he did not provide detailed data to back the claim.

Additional reporting from the wires

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