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China Covid-19 vaccines the best source for boosters: PM

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China’s Sinopharm vaccines arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday. Heng Chivoan

China Covid-19 vaccines the best source for boosters: PM

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Chinese-made Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines could be administered as booster shots in Cambodia because of their plentiful availability as the Kingdom continues to rely on China as its “strategic backer” for vaccines supply.

Hun Sen issued policy guidelines for booster shots for the population aged 12 and over on August 25.

Booster shot – a third Covid-19 vaccine dose to further bolster immune response in light of the highly contagious Delta variant – began earlier this month for some officials and frontline workers, but the projected completion date for their provision to the general population is currently set for mid-2022.

In the five-page policy document, Hun Sen said Cambodia regards vaccination as the primary means of protecting its citizenry and that achieving herd immunity against the novel coronavirus would lead to the full-scale reopening of all sectors of the economy and society, with only the less-intrusive precautionary measures ongoing.

According to Hun Sen, most Cambodians who were vaccinated received either the Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines already for their first and second doses, but experts had given their assurances that both vaccines will still be effective when used as booster shots regardless of whether their base vaccination used those same vaccines or if they initially received the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“Therefore, our booster shot campaign must take into account that our friend China is the strategic backer for supplying vaccines to Cambodia, while other sources of vaccines will continue to be secondary or supporting sources for Cambodia’s vaccination drive and can also be used for booster shots or for a second round of vaccinations depending on our ability to procure them,” he said.

Hun Sen reiterated that vaccinations in Cambodia are on always on a voluntary basis and free of charge if administered by the government and that this policy remained in place for booster shots.

“The government will administer booster shots on a voluntary basis and people who were vaccinated the first time around can come and get this booster shot in order to better increase their immune response and their antibody levels against the virus, especially the Delta variant,” he said.

Hun Sen called on wealthier citizens to get their booster shots at their own expense at private hospitals or clinics that had received permission from the government.

He also urged owners and managers of factories, enterprises and businesses – or those that can afford to share the burden of some of the government’s vaccines expenses – to provide third doses to their staff and workers independently as well.

“The government will set up a mechanism to facilitate contributions from the private sector towards vaccines expenses so that they can provide booster shots for their staff and workers.

“The government will also facilitate private sector imports of vaccines and ensure that the provision of vaccines to the people through the private sector is done at a reasonable price,” he said.

The prime minister explained that booster shots are first being provided to frontline medical workers, civil servants and military personnel deployed at the border because they are at increased risk of contracting the disease.

He said priority for third doses will also be given to citizens aged 60 and over and those who have compromised immune systems due to medical conditions before rolling them out to the rest of the public.

“Third dose vaccinations will be administered using the ‘blossom strategy’ we applied during the first round of vaccinations, meaning we start with Phnom Penh and Kandal province, followed by population centres in the provinces, and we expand outward in all directions from each of those starting points,” he said.

Cambodia’s booster shot initiative has been praised by World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Cambodia Li Ailan who said on August 22 that it was another step forward and a necessary precaution as well as a continuation of Cambodia’s record of impressive policy achievements in its response to the pandemic.

As of August 24, Cambodia’s vaccination drive for those aged 12 and over has reached 62.1 per cent of the total population of 16 million, with almost 530,000 people – mostly frontline medical workers or border personnel – having now received booster shots.

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