Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to use the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines as the booster dose for the Chinese-manufactured Sinopharm and Sinonac vaccines, while the US-donated Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be used for ethnic minority groups and migrant workers.
Speaking at the launch of the vaccination campaign for the 12-17 age group at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on August 1, Hun Sen said the AstraZeneca vaccines will be used as third doses or booster shots when planning is completed in the near future.
People who have already been vaccinated with AstraZeneca will be inoculated with either Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines for their third dose. The third dose is to further increase the amount of Covid-19 antibodies produced by the immune system in light of the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant.
"I’ve already decided to permit third doses with AstraZeneca as the booster dose. Those who have been vaccinated with Sinovac and Sinopharm have to be innoculated with AstraZeneca, but this vaccine [AstraZeneca] has to be delivered to frontline workers at the Cambodia-Thailand border [as the first priority]," he said.
The AstraZeneca vaccines have been donated by Japan through the World Health Organisation-led Covax Facility and the UK through a bilateral agreement. The government is now in talks with Oxford Biomedica and AstraZeneca to purchase more of the vaccines.
On July 30, the first shipment of 455,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in Cambodia. They are the first batch of over one million doses the US government has pledged to provide to Cambodia through Covax.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said these vaccines will be used for ethnic minority groups and migrant workers.
The decision, he explained, was made based on the fact that the vaccines require just a single shot which will make it easier for the ethnic minority groups and the medical workers alike. They will be transported to the provinces including Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Preah Vihear, among others.
He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccines leftover after vaccinating the target groups will be used on returning migrant workers, especially from Thailand, who – given their migratory nature – may not be around to receive a second dose of the other types of vaccines available.
According to the prime minister, another 7.6 million doses will arrive this August, which will give the Kingdom a total of 26.5 million doses acquired since February. He said that in the near future the Kingdom will obtain up to 35 million doses from purchases, direct donations and through Covax.
Also on August 1, another one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China arrived in Cambodia, bringing the total donated to 3.2 million. Cambodia has also purchased 15.5 million doses from China.
“China and Cambodia are brothers … and friends in a community of common destiny. China will continue to be a strong strategic backer of Cambodia regarding vaccines and will provide unwavering support to Cambodia in its fight against Covid-19.
“As long as the pandemic has not ended in Cambodia, China’s assistance for Cambodia will not end,” the Chinese embassy said.
The embassy added that China will provide more medical supplies worth more than $3 million soon, including oxygen concentrators, ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Hun Sen has told authorities to make stronger efforts to prevent the spread of the Delta variant before it devastates the country and he called on migrant workers to refrain from returning home at this time.
According to Hun Sen, there are currently 12,000 migrant workers in various quarantine centres. That figure rises even higher if those in hospitals are counted.
On July 31, he said there were 127 workers who returned from Thailand through the O’Bei Choan border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province, 40 of whom were positive for the disease.
“If we cannot control it, Delta will spread across the country. For now, Delta can be seen in clusters in some areas and that’s why we are trying to cut the chain of transmission by imposing curfews and lockdowns. All of this is to prevent the spread of the virus and the death of our people,” he said.
He also instructed the authorities to bring food assistance to Thai authorities for them to provide to migrant workers in Thailand, urging the workers to remain in place.
Lim Sophon, a Thailand-based coordinator for labour rights group Central, told The Post on August 1 that many migrant workers are trying to return to Cambodia but are stopped when they reach the border. He said his NGO is working with the Cambodian embassy in Thailand to bring them food aid.
“No matter how much the embassy and others try to help them, I believe that the food aid and medicine will not be enough. The surge of Covid-19 cases in Thailand is so high now that they all want to escape,” he said.
As of July 31, Cambodia had vaccinated over 7.3 million people of the targeted adult population of 10 million. Hun Sen said Cambodia is prepared to reach that target by October while also vaccinating two million children aged 12-17.