The Cambodian government is exploring extending vaccinations to children as young as 12 against COVID-19, while more than 5 million adults have been vaccinated so far.
In a voice message posted in his official Facebook page on Friday, Prime minister Hun Sen said he spoke with several officials about starting the campaign to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17.
He said he had been discussing the campaign extension with Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Porn Moniroth, Vongsey Vissoth, permanent secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance in charge of vaccines, and Or Vandine, spokesperson of the Health Ministry. About 5,400,000 adults have received at least one dose.
“It is true, we have [met the] necessary requirements to vaccinate for children and youths aged between 12 to 17,” he said, adding that Cambodia would need around 4 million doses to cover that age group.
“I ordered [officials] to find vaccinations,” Hun Sen said that Cambodia will eventually use a total of more than 31 million doses.
About 4 million Cambodians have been fully vaccinated, with the government aiming to vaccinate all 10 million adults. The premier outlined two options, either fully finish adult vaccinations, including 4 million people who live in more rural areas, or begin vaccinating children who live in Phnom Penh, Kandal, and Sihanoukville — dense cities that have all seen bad outbreaks this year.
While he didn’t give a timeframe for extending the vaccinations to children, he said the program can be rolled out quickly and urged adults to get ready.
“I use this opportunity to appeal to all parents and guardians of children and youths to prepare to bring their children or grandchildren to be vaccinated when the time arrives,” said Hun Sen.
He said that if Cambodia vaccinates children, schools can be reopened for those aged 12 and older with mask measures and social distance rules in place. But he said primary schools would likely remain closed given the difficulties younger children may have following those guidelines.
Cambodia has thus far received 17 million doses of Chinese-made vaccines, most having been purchased by the Cambodian government.
Kuoy Bunthoeun, director of Kandal provincial health department, said that the vaccination campaign for adults in his province has almost completed its target of reaching 599,251 people.
“We vaccinated 98 percent of the target population for the first dose and for the second dose, we vaccinated 88 percent of the target group,” said Mr Bunthoeun.
Bunthoeun said the department was ready to extend the vaccination campaign as soon as the government gave the order.
“We have enough health officials to vaccinate children and teenagers,” he said.
“I appeal to all parents or guardians, please bring their children aged between 12 to 17 to get vaccinated when the vaccination campaign of child and teenagers arrives in Cambodia,” He said.
Unicef Cambodia said that the current WHO guidelines recommend that “adults and those with higher risk to the disease are prioritized to be vaccinated first before other groups.”
In countries with high supplies of vaccinations, like the U.S., inoculations have been extended to those older than 12. WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts has approved use thus far only of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine for those older than 12. In June, China announced its regulators had found Sinovac to be safe and effective for children and said it would start inoculating those as young as 3, though did not give a timeframe. The UAE last month began its own Phase 3 trials into the safety of the Sinopharm vaccine for children.
“Vaccine trials for children are ongoing and WHO will update its recommendations when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy,” the WHO said in a statement. “It’s important for children to continue to have the recommended childhood vaccines.”
San Chey, executive director of the advocacy group Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said that the government needs to be careful and ensure that the vaccine is recognized by the World Health Organization before extending it to children.
“The government should review and consider thoroughly about the quality or condition of that vaccine before using for them but if that vaccine is recognized by WHO, it is good,” said Chey.
Yong Kim Eng, Executive Director of PDP-Center, told CamboJA that child vaccinations can be important in slowing the spread of COVID-19. And he said it’s important to get children back in school, with many students struggling or having to drop out amid remote schooling.
“However, I call for [us to be sure] that the vaccine to be injected is safe for all children,” he said, adding that approval by the WHO is the best indicator.
Chan Horm, a resident at Phsar Doeum Thkov commune, told CamboJA that he would urge any young relatives to be vaccinated as soon as the campaign opens.
“Old people like me have been vaccinated, but the young children have not been vaccinated yet” he said, adding that it would be helpful to getting children back in school.
On Friday, the Ministry of Health reported 889 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total count to 65,500 since the pandemic began in early 2020. The large majority of these cases have been recorded since February 20, when the ongoing community outbreak began in Cambodia. The ministry has also recorded 57,027 recovered cases and 1052 deaths from the virus.