Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Slowing vaccinations amid lockdown may hamper Cambodia’s outsized inoculation success story

A woman receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Phnom Penh, April 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A woman receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Phnom Penh, April 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Even as Cambodia struggles to contain a worsening outbreak of COVID-19, it has far surpassed its neighbors in vaccinations, with nearly 1.3 million people having received at least one dose, according to figures released Wednesday by the Health Ministry and Ministry of Defense. But with first dose vaccinations suspended during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and neighboring Takhmao City, Kandal, that progress is likely to slow.

The Health Ministry said it had vaccinated 983,145 civilians, including workers, civil servants, government officials, the general public, and foreigners, while the Defense Ministry said it has inoculated 294,543 members of the armed forces.

In all of ASEAN, only Singapore — where about 24 percent have received at least one dose — has vaccinated a higher portion of their population, according to Our World in Data, a University of Oxford project that collates government vaccination data from around the world. About 1.5 percent of Laotians have received at least one dose; under 1 percent of Thailand’s population has received at least one dose; and barely .1 percent of Vietnam citizens have received a dose. Cambodia, by comparison, has at least partially vaccinated more than 7.6 percent of its population since it began its campaign on February 10.

Cambodia has so far received 1.3 million doses of China-donated Sinopharm, 1.5 million doses of Sinovac purchased from China, and 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca offered by WHO through its COVAX Facility, which aims to donate enough vaccines to cover up to 20 percent of a country’s population.

A further 1.5 million vaccine doses are set to arrive in May. In June, the country will receive another 3 million. Through July and August, another 3 million doses should arrive in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week. In total, Cambodia plans to procure 20 million doses. If the vaccines arrive on schedule, Cambodia will have more than 11 million doses by the end of this year, Hun Sen said.

Before the lockdown began, Cambodia had been rapidly expanding its coverage. On April 1, around 2.6 percent of the population had received at least one dose, a figure that had jumped to 7.3 by the time the Phnom Penh and Takhmao lockdown began on April 15. On April 18, the government announced tighter lockdown restrictions, including the suspension of first dose inoculations, considerably slowing the vaccine campaign.

Medical staff prepare a second dose shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Phnom Penh, April 20, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Medical staff prepare a second dose shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Phnom Penh, April 20, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Ny Sokha, head of the monitoring section of rights group Adhoc, said the suspension undermined some of the progress Cambodia had made in procuring and providing vaccines.

“We are increasing [the number of people getting] vaccinations, we are trying to get as many vaccines as possible from some countries, we are trying to buy and get help, but we are delaying vaccinations. There is concern in the future because if we inject more people, we can help prevent and reduce the spread,” Sokha said. “If people have not been vaccinated much, we will still be at high risk in the future.”

First doses had been suspended, he said, in an effort to keep people from traveling. In light of that, he said, it would be better if the government rolled out a strategy to bring vaccines directly into communities. Currently, vaccinations are being given at particular hospitals, ministries, district referral health centers, and some schools, whereas in some countries vaccines are available in a larger range of clinics, pharmacies, or provided in-home by health officials.

As of Thursday afternoon, 59 people have died of COVID-19 — all from the latest outbreak. Health officials have recorded 7,648 new infections since the February 20 community event, with a total overall case count of 8,193 cases since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

Or Vandine, Health Ministry spokeswoman said the government was relying on people to follow the lockdown orders and flatten the curve.

“I still say again and again that whether we can control [the situation of COVID-19] or not depends on the participation of the people,” she said.

She added if all people can adhere to the government’s measures for a short time, they will go back to normal life faster, but if people flout lockdown rules, she could not estimate when the virus would be brought under control.

Second doses are still being provided. On his Facebook page, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that he, along with his wife and youngest daughter, had received his second dose that morning in their home.

On Saturday, Hun Sen will be joining an upcoming ASEAN special summit on Myanmar hosted by Indonesia. He said that a much smaller delegation than usual would be accompanying him due to the outbreak and lockdown, and he said that they would be quarantining for 14 days upon return, as well as be tested for COVID-19.