The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Cambodia urged all governments to include migrant workers in their national Covid-19 vaccination plans, while the Ministry of Health has prioritised the provinces bordering with Thailand and Vietnam for vaccination but only for carefully chosen priority groups.

“Migrants are the everyday heroes who continue to contribute to the economy even during the pandemic. They should be fully included in the national Covid-19 vaccination plans,” said

Kristin Parco, chief of mission for IOM Cambodia.

In an email to The Post on February 17, Parco said there should be adequate consideration of migrants and no exclusion of anyone based on their migration status and that if the national priority is health workers, then migrant health workers should be equally prioritised. Or if older persons are considered a priority, then older migrants should equally be prioritised.

Parco said migrants are often one of the neglected populations as many countries are preparing their national deployment and vaccination plans even though some of them may be disproportionately exposed to health risks due to substandard living and working conditions, stigma and discrimination or lack of access to health services.

“The pandemic has shown that when it comes to public health, no one is protected unless everyone is protected. It is therefore crucial that governments recognise the public health importance of accounting for all categories of migrants, irrespective of legal status, in Covid-19 national vaccination plans,” she wrote.

Parco noted that the Cambodian government had put considerable effort into National Deployment and Vaccination Plan and that following this plan was important to have a safe and smooth vaccination campaign.

“IOM stands ready to assist governments and partners in the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine to expand the reach of immunisation campaigns to migrants and other mobile populations,” she wrote.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said on February 17 that the 300,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by China would cover around 149,500 people. Her ministry is preparing a vaccination plan thoroughly before delivering the vaccines to the prioritised groups in the provinces.

“Actually, we do want to vaccinate widely, but right now our vaccine supply is limited. Therefore, our vaccination must be for specific groups – one after another in order – and we must ensure that we have enough vaccines for people to get two doses each.

“That is why we have to be careful with selecting the priority groups who can come to get the vaccine free of charge in the assigned order,” Vandine said.

She added that the provinces bordering Thailand and Vietnam are a priority as many migrant workers are flocking back home while the two countries are experiencing high rates of transmission.

Cambodian ambassador to South Korea Long Dimanche said on February 17 that the country will roll out vaccinations from February 26 through November for all people living there.

“Foreigners living, working and studying in South Korea, including Cambodians, will also receive vaccination just like all Korean citizens without discrimination, though it has not yet been announced when foreign workers will be vaccinated.

“But the schedule for diplomats hasn’t been determined either,” he said.

Separately, the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh said on February 17 that Thailand will start the first phase of vaccination for priority groups from February to May and the second phase from approximately June until the end of the year.

There are currently more than one million Cambodian migrants working in Thailand.

Thailand’s first priority group consists of frontline health workers, followed by those at high risk across the country.

“The draft strategy on Thailand’s vaccination rollout prioritises inoculation based on risk, irrespective of nationality and on a voluntary basis,” it said.

The embassy added that Thailand considered healthcare and medical treatment as basic human rights, which would ensure universal health coverage and vaccination for the Thai population as well as migrant workers.

“As for access to vaccines, our inoculation strategy is based on risk and not status or nationality and should migrant workers fall into a risk category, they will be covered by the national scheme and given the same priority,” it said.