The Cambodian government on Sunday began its campaign to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17, beginning in Phnom Penh, while the prime minister announced they would soon start a program to provide a third “booster” dose of AstraZeneca to adults who have already been fully vaccinated with the Chinese Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines.
Speaking at a press conference Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Cambodians to bring their children to be vaccinated, noting that he and other top leaders had their young family members vaccinated.
“My grandchildren came to get vaccinated, the grandchildren of Men Sam An [deputy prime minister]…….and ten grandchildren of Samdech Kralahom [Sar Keng] came to be vaccinated,” he said.
He said that if children and teachers are vaccinated, the government can reopen secondary schools for in-person learning starting as soon as September or October. And he added that he hoped to lower the eligibility age gradually, but it would depend on the recommendations of the WHO and vaccine manufacturers.
He also said that the government decided to begin a third-dose, mixed booster vaccine program for the general population, which would make it the first country in the world to do so.
“Any people who were vaccinated with Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccine, they need to receive an AstraZeneca boosting dose,” he said. “Any people who were vaccinated with AstraZeneca with two doses will receive a third dose with Sinopharm or Sinovac,” he said, explaining that over time the effectiveness of a full two-dose vaccine course can lessen, which was why they would begin a third-dose program. The booster shot would first be rolled out in border provinces, which have been trying to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant as Thailand suffers its worst outbreak yet.
“I ordered His Excellency Vongsey Vissoth [permanent secretary of state of Economy and Finance Ministry] to order AstraZeneca through COVAX or directly contact the company that produces AstraZeneca to bring it to vaccinate as a third dose for the people,” said Hun Sen.
Hun Sen said that the third dose would initially be earmarked for frontliners, including healthcare workers and those working and staying in quarantine centers, a priority group that includes between 500,000 to 1,000,000 people.
He also said that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be sent to remote indigenous communities in Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Preah Vihear and elsewhere while any remaining doses would be sent to migrant workers returning from Thailand. Last week, 455,000 doses of the American vaccine were delivered to Cambodia, the first batch of 1,060,100 doses donated by the US through the COVAX facility.
Until now, said Hun Sen, Cambodia has received a total of 19 million doses, with another 7 million set to arrive in August.
The vast majority of the vaccines purchased and donated thus far have been from China, and Hun Sen explained that his strategy was to vaccinate people as quickly as possible with the most-available Chinese vaccines, supplementing them as vaccines become available from other nations.
“We use China as a main source to supply the vaccine and other sources are support sources,” said Hun Sen.
Ngy Mean Heng, director of Phnom Penh Health Department said that the campaign to vaccinate children would begin rolling out the first dose from August 1 to August 14 and begin giving the second dose from August 22.
Lim Vanna, 40, a resident living in Trapaing Thloeng village, Choam Chao I commune, Pur Senchey district said that she is worried about her children during Covid-19 outbreak.
“I appreciate our government for fighting in Covid-19, and I also participate in how to prevent and protect my family. I never let my children go out. And I also wear a mask, and clean with alcohol every time to make sure I am ok when I get back home,” she said.
Vanna said her sister is a doctor, so she gets advice from her on the safety of vaccinations for children.
“I believe her but I am still concerned about them because they are my life,” she said, adding that she would bring them to be vaccinated particularly so they could return to school.
Phon Maly said that she worries about the spread of Covid-19, particularly the Delta variant.
“To stop Covid-19 we need to carefully protect our hygiene in daily living and if we can get a vaccine it will be more helpful because it can fight against this disease, however, I am not sure how effective it is to inject children. They are kids, so I still worry. But I hope Covid will decrease soon,” she said.
Kandal Provincial Health Department director Kuoy Bunthoeun said that they began the youth vaccination program today.
“We inject children from 12 to 17 years old for a 14 days campaign. We plan to inject 171,130 children in Kandal province and some districts will have three or four locations. I hope our people will come to inject in order to stop the Covid-19 spread to the community” he said.
Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia said that it is a good sign that Cambodia is beginning a third-dose program and that the vaccination of children could help protect and reopen the country.
“Maybe the government wants to reopen school for children, that’s why they need to inject the vaccine. If the Covid-19 happens in schools it will be more serious, so injection for young age is a good choice,” he said.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health reported 671 new cases of COVID-19 including 265 imported cases, bringing the total count to 77,914 including 10,802 imported cases 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 70,754 recovered cases and 1,420 deaths from the virus.