The first batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Japan – 332,000 of the total one million doses – touched down at Phnom Penh International Airport on the night of July 23 and were warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
At the handover ceremony, Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami stressed that Tokyo would continue to support the global fight against the pandemic, even as it grapples with the crisis at home.
“I hope this contribution will complement Cambodia’s Covid-19 preventive measures and lift the spirits of Cambodians, as friends of the Japanese people,” Mikami said, wishing for the friendly ties between Japan and Cambodia to flourish.
Speaking at the airport, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had vaccinated 6,552,632 people aged 18 and older as of July 23.
“Cambodia and the people as a whole feel warm and grateful to the Japanese government for supporting our fight against Covid-19 though the provision of medical supplies and financial assistance one after another.
“The provision of these one million doses is new evidence reflecting profound humanitarian gesture and great responsibility of Japan in supporting countries with limited resources and ability in the fight against Covid-19,” he said.
He said Japan’s vaccine donation will add to the 18 million doses that Cambodia has already procured thus far. It will accelerate vaccinations for the remaining adult population and the government's plan to vaccinate the 12-17 age group in a new campaign scheduled to kick off on August 1.
“I will go to preside over an inauguration ceremony to vaccinate children at Calmette Hospital [in Phnom Penh] and then I will hold a press conference there. I will bring my grandchildren aged 12-17 there to get the jabs,” he said.
He said if more children under 12 years old are vaccinated, Cambodia will be able to vaccinate more than 82 per cent of its entire population, which is his goal.
He appealed to parents to bring their children for vaccinations as there have been no reports of any major side-effects.
He hoped that the remaining doses pledged by Japan will be shipped to Cambodia soon as this will enable the government to complete vaccinations for the targeted adult population of 10 million in October or November this year.
“According to statistics, children and adolescents account for more than 190,000 of the population in Phnom Penh. But if we count those who come from the provinces to work in Phnom Penh with their children, then the number will rise to 280,000. We have to vaccinate them too,” Hun Sen said.
“At all costs, the Cambodian government has to accomplish vaccinations for compatriots who have reached the right age for vaccination, as permitted by medical specialists. The world and Cambodia have a common hope – vaccination. We have seen a drop in the number of new transmission cases, especially in the areas of Phnom Penh where factories are concentrated.
The prime minister also sought to allay public concerns over vaccines' efficacy following reports that some people who had received their second dose still contracted the coronavirus and died. Such cases, he explained, also happened in the US and Europe.
He hit back at unnamed critics who claimed that he intended to use vaccinations to make his mark.
“Hun Sen’s legacy is not just vaccinations. Hun Sen’s legacy is saving lives and liberating the country [from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime] on January 7, 1979. Hun Sen’s legacies include bringing Cambodia out of wars toward peace and development,” he said.
“There are many more of Hun Sen’s legacies, but let me just remind you that I don’t need [vaccinations] to leave another legacy. What matters to me most is that the lives and health of the people are ensured,” he stressed.