Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodia to receive Indian-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Prime Minister Hun Sen accepts the first consignment of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine in Phnom Penh last month. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Prime Minister Hun Sen accepts the first consignment of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine in Phnom Penh last month. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Cambodia will receive around 320,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine produced in India on Tuesday, so that two vaccines, including the Chinese-made Sinopharm, available in the country for inoculations.

The Ministry of Health, Unicef and World Health Organization released a statement announcing the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by India’s Serum Institute of India. The vaccines have been procured through the WHO’s COVAX Facility, which is attempting to make vaccines available to low- and middle- income countries globally.

“The arriving doses above are the first consignment provided to Cambodia by the COVAX Facility. Further batches will arrive throughout the year 2021,” read the statement.

The COVAX Facility will provide vaccines for up to 20 percent of a country’s population, which is around 3.2 million people, or 6.4 million doses of a two-dose vaccine.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Facebook that he would be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. He had first announced that he would get the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine last month but backed out after he found out it was not advisable for people above the age of 60 to get the medication.

“I would like to add that if there is no change, I will be vaccinated at 8:30 am on March 4, 2021, at Calmette Hospital, and hold a press conference,” Hun Sen wrote in the post.

Cambodia has been using the Sinopharm vaccine for little more than two weeks and has so far vaccinated 16,390 people as of Friday. The vaccine is open to the public and has been used to inoculate high-ranking officials, security forces and priority groups or frontline workers.

The second vaccine arrives as Cambodia is dealing with a second community transmission event, which has seen more than 300 cases in a little over a week. The cases are mostly linked to foreign nationals and have spread from Phnom Penh to Kandal and Preah Sihanouk provinces.

The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh also announced on Monday that China would deliver 400,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, completing its pledge to give Cambodia 1 million doses.

The Health Ministry added that it was extending vaccinations to waste collectors, who were between the age of 18 and 58.

Kao Sovath, a worker representative at trash collection company Cintri, said he had been informed about the Health Ministry’s announcement but was not sure how many waste collectors were willing to get the vaccine.

“Some workers said they will go to get vaccinated and some workers said that they will not go to get vaccinated,” said Sovath.

Leakh Pros, a resident of Dangkao district’s Spean Thmar commune, said he and his family were staying at home because of the recent community transmission event, but would take the vaccine if it kept his family safe.

“I do not know clearly about the requirements to get vaccinated, but if the government allows people to get vaccinated, I will go to get vaccinated because I want to defend myself and my family,” Pros said.

Moeun Tola, who heads labor rights group Central, said the government should be transparent about the efficacy of vaccines, especially given that only one of the options available now is WHO approved – the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I think that [government] leaders need to have an open mind and explain the [vaccines’ efficacy] to the public, rather than use the law to punish people,” Tola said, referring to government threats to arrest people who spread “fake news” about the vaccines.