Cambodia to Receive First Doses of Covid-19 Vaccine Next Month

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A woman waves the Cambodian and Chinese flags at the Phnom Penh International Airport on March 23, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

China will send Cambodia its first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine next month, with the nation’s key trade partner set to deliver 300,000 doses of Sinopharm shots for top officials and health workers, a senior Health Ministry official said.

China has allocated 1 million doses of the vaccine from Chinese state-owned firm China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) for Cambodia, with the first 300,000 doses arriving in February, ministry spokesperson Or Vandine told VOD on Tuesday.

“According to Samdech [Prime Minister Hun Sen’s] comments, he has already announced that he wants the vaccine to arrive before Chinese New Year,” which falls in mid-February, Vandine said, using an honorific for the prime minister.

The Health Ministry has asked the Chinese government to provide technical experts to help Cambodia in distributing the vaccine, she said.

Sinopharm is developing two coronavirus vaccines, one of which is in the process of being assessed by the World Health Organization, which anticipates an evaluation decision in March, WHO said.

Sinopharm’s two-dose vaccine is up to 79 percent effective, Vandine said, although the United Arab Emirates said in December that trials showed an efficacy rate of 86 percent.

China, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan have authorized “emergency use” of the Sinopharm vaccine, the firm’s website says. Pakistan, Iraq and Serbia have also approved its use, according to news reports.

The vaccines from Sinopharm and another Chinese firm, Sinovac, “have been regarded as potentially affordable and easily distributed vaccine candidates,” CNN reports. Unlike the vaccines from Western pharmaceutical firms Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — which have been reported as 95 percent effective — the Chinese shots do not need expensive cold storage.

On Sunday, Hun Sen announced in a Facebook post that he would receive the Sinopharm vaccine in order to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The Health Ministry’s Vandine said in addition to the prime minister, medical professionals and senior government officials would be first in line to be vaccinated, including those working at the National Assembly and Senate, as well as members of the armed forces.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said he was pleased to learn that Cambodia would soon receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

“When the vaccine arrives, the National Assembly also is included, according to Samdech’s plan, saying that those around the leaders will be vaccinated because Covid-19 is very contagious,” Peng Long said. “In order to maintain security, the health of the leaders, those who work closely with the leaders will receive this vaccine first.”

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said at a weekly meeting on Monday that his ministry was preparing to request that journalists from state media also be included on the priority list to get the vaccine, as reported in a national TV broadcast. The minister said the proposal came after a request from journalists during a press forum in December.

Heng Kimhong, head of research and advocacy at the Cambodian Youth Network, said the government should consider waiting for the WHO’s endorsement before rolling out a vaccine.

“Normally, vaccines that are not yet recognized by the World Health Organization, the leading expert medical organization, we still have worries about the quality,” Kimhong said.

On Monday, during a meeting with Indian Ambassador to Cambodia, Devyani Khobragade, Hun Sen also requested vaccine aid from India, which has produced its own Covid-19 vaccine and plans to vaccinate more than 300 million people this year, according to a post on Hun Sen’s Facebook page.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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