The Ministry of Health is considering expanding the number of priority groups that can get the AstraZeneca vaccine after a surge in requests for vaccination last week, where occasionally the Indian-made vaccine was used outside prescribed groups.
Health Ministry Secretary of State Or Vandine said on Monday that the second batch of AstraZeneca vaccines, which are produced in India under the brand name Covishield, will arrive before June this year, and that the government would increase how many groups could access it.
“We are considering expanding the scope [of Covishield vaccine] for more priority groups but it depends on the decisions made by the inter-ministerial committee that will have further discussions and get directions from Prime Minister Hun Sen,” she said.
“People want to take the vaccine but because the number of vaccines is limited, we need to prioritize which group of people get it,” Vandine said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered the creation of a committee to look at the vaccination rollout which will be led by Or Vandine. He added that Cambodia will receive 1.5 million doses of another Chinese-made vaccine, Sinovac.
“We are also looking to buy the U.S.’ Johnson and Johnson vaccine as well,” he said.
Cambodia has so far received 600,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca – authorities have said they have suspended first-dose inoculations.
The government said the Shinopharm could not be used for people above the age of 60 and with several pre-existing conditions. So, the AstraZeneca was supposed to be used for Cambodians over the age of 60, as well as for diplomats, workers at international organizations and the United Nations.
CamboJA has found that people under the age of 60 have reportedly received the AstraZeneca vaccine. A group chat conversation, accessed by CamboJA, shows that members of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce arranged to get inoculated with the Astra Zeneca at the National Pediatric Hospital this week.
Nguon Meng Tech, general director of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that more than 90 of its members in Phnom Penh were inoculated with AstraZeneca and that most of them were above the age of 60.
“Because the Shinopharm ran out of stock, members asked to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine instead,” he said. “Only a few members under 60 years of age received the AstraZeneca vaccine. They were aged between 57 and 58.”
Or Vandine said she would look into whether people who were under the age of 60 were being given the AstraZeneca vaccine.
City Hall Spokesperson Meth Measpheakdey said that the City Hall was organizing a list of people over the age of 60 to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Since the Ministry of Health announced that people aged over 60 should get the AstraZeneca vaccine, many people flocked to get the vaccine,” he said. “So, authorities have prepared a list to invite them from each village or commune to prevent crowding at the same time.”
Hedy Ip, chief of health section at UNICEF Cambodia, said Cambodia had developed the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) for COVID-19 vaccines designed to ensure priority groups get access to the vaccines.
“UNICEF and WHO are conducting monitoring visits to vaccination sites and supporting the Government in identifying any issues that need to be addressed,” she said in an email.
Chak Sopheap, an executive director of Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said that under international human rights law the government is under an obligation to ensure that the right to health can be attained without discrimination.
“Reports that diplomatic staff and staff members from international NGOs are given two vaccines to choose from – when ordinary Khmer citizens are not – are therefore worrying and beg the question of what could possibly justify this difference in treatment,” she said.
She said the government needs to abide by the WHO’s existing and future guidance when implementing its COVID-19 response measures and to ensure that human rights are central in shaping the pandemic response.
“It is paramount that the distribution of vaccines is organized in an equitable, non-discriminatory and transparent manner, to prevent favoritism and corruption from marring the vaccination campaign,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Health’s vaccination report from March 14, 170,659 people had received at least one dose of the two available vaccines.
Cambodia has reported 1,505 COVID-19 cases since last year, with an ongoing community transmission cluster spreading to at least 10 provinces and infecting more than 900 people.