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Cambodia receives first batch of US-made Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Johnson&Johnson COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US to Cambodia through the international COVAX mechanism arrive at Phnom Penh International airport, July 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
The Johnson&Johnson COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US to Cambodia through the international COVAX mechanism arrive at Phnom Penh International airport, July 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Cambodia received half a million single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Friday, the first portion of more than one million doses donated by the US government through the international COVAX mechanism. The country will also receive another 415,000 doses of AstraZeneca donated from the United Kingdom as well.

The vaccines’ arrival was welcomed by chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Cambodia Ben Wohlauer and Cambodian health minister Mam Bun Heng.

Wohlauer said that the single-dose vaccines will help to protect more than one million Cambodian people from COVID-19.

“Let me stress that we do not share these doses to secure favors or extract concessions, our vaccines do not come with the strings attached,” he said. “We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead global efforts to an end to the pandemic.”

Wohlauer said that with this contribution, the US is reaffirming its long-standing commitment to public health in Cambodia.

In his speech, the US chargé d’affaires said the US had provided more than $11 million in COVID-19 assistance to Cambodia since the start of the pandemic, adding that US health agencies have been working closely with their Cambodian counterparts on surveillance, contract tracing, vaccination support and research to contain the spread of COVID-19. He announced that the remaining batches of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will arrive on August 2.

In his accompanying remarks, Mam Bun Heng thanked the American people, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the COVAX mechanism for facilitating the timely delivery of vaccines to Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page on Friday that the donation from the US was part of the United States’ continued support for the Cambodian people and the region.  The prime minister has previously welcomed vaccines donated by both China and Japan in person, including a delivery last Friday of 330,000 doses of the Japan-donated AstraZeneca vaccine.

Hun Sen had previously asked the US for 4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines after being criticized for being overly reliant on China, which is the main source of the vaccines used by Cambodia to inoculate the population.

Representative of the US Ambassador to Cambodia Ben Wohlauer and Health Minister Mam Bun Heng at a handover ceremony for COVID-19 vaccines donated through the COVAX mechanism at Phnom Penh International Airport, July 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Representative of the US Ambassador to Cambodia Ben Wohlauer and Health Minister Mam Bun Heng at a handover ceremony for COVID-19 vaccines donated through the COVAX mechanism at Phnom Penh International Airport, July 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan said​ that Cambodia and the US still have good cooperation in many fields.

“Despite concerns over the naval base in Ream, we still have many areas of cooperation with the United States, especially in the field of public health, as we see today, and culture,” he said. “Naturally, one country always defends its own interests, and misunderstandings normally occur in every country.”

The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated as Cambodia is seen to be moving closer to China, including in military cooperation. The US government has raised concerns about a Chinese military presence at Ream Naval Base along Cambodia’s coast — an allegation which Cambodia has repeatedly rejected.

Political analyst Em Sovannara said that when Cambodia receives more batches of COVID-19 vaccines, it will pull Cambodia away from relying too much on China.

“This is a commitment pledged by the group of G7 countries to resist Chinese influence globally,” he said. “But, if Cambodia continues to move more and more close to China, I think Cambodia may face a lot of pressure, such as diplomatic policy, foreign relations and trade.”

With this arrival, Cambodia has received a total of more than 17.85 million doses so far, most of which have been acquired from China. This number includes 6.2 million doses of Sinopharm, 10.5 million of Sinovac, 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca through COVAX and another 332,000 doses of AstraZeneca donated from Japan, the first portion of one million doses. Of the 6.2 million doses of Sinopharm, 2.2 million doses were donated by China. The British embassy in Phnom Penh announced this week that Cambodia will also receive 415,000 doses of AstraZeneca donated from the UK.

The Cambodian government has so far vaccinated more than seven million people, or more than 71 percent of the 10 million target population. Starting August 1, the government will start vaccinating more than two million children aged between 12 and 17 using China’s Sinovac vaccine.

The donation comes after the government announced lockdown measures over eight provinces along the Thai border in order to curb the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Authorities have also put in place nationwide restrictions on restaurants, cinemas, museums, and entertainment venues, as well as travel curfews, amid a surge of positive cases in neighboring Thailand.

According to the Ministry of Health on July 27, 39 cases of the new variant Delta have been found in five provinces along the Thai border. Phnom Penh has since been placed under a 14-day citywide curfew from 9pm to 3am.

On Friday, Cambodia reported 668 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths, bringing the total count to 76,585 cases and 1,375 deaths since the pandemic began in early 2020.

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