Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company.

In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and will use them on the 500,000 people on the priority list for vaccination.

Hun Sen made a U-turn from his announcement in December when he said Cambodia would only use vaccines certified as safe and effective by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) COVAX initiative.

He said ongoing developments in the pandemic situation globally and locally had prompted Cambodia to accept China’s aid prior to the WHO giving the Sinopharm vaccine its seal of approval.

“Due to the urgency of the situation, we cannot wait any longer. Defending the nation and the people from contracting this vicious virus is an absolute necessity that requires us to go ahead with vaccination now.

“We have strong assurances and good evidence that this vaccine is safe given that it was already used by the leaders of China and by millions of their citizens without causing them harm.

“And there are other countries like Indonesia where the president has already been vaccinated using this vaccine from the People’s Republic of China,” Hun Sen said.

He added that the other reasons to accept the Chinese vaccine now was that it was easy to transport and store unlike some of the other vaccines now in use.

He noted that the Sinopharm vaccine can be preserved at between 2 and 8 degree Celsius, while those from other countries required storage temperatures of at least minus 70C that Cambodia is not equipped to provide.

“Be glad that our friend China will provide us with one million doses out of a spirit of generosity and friendship towards the Kingdom of Cambodia.

“I would like to say to all of the old and venerable brothers and sisters across the Kingdom: stay calm, help is on the way. We will begin vaccination very soon,” Hun Sen said.

He further explained that between 10 and 13 million Cambodians out of the total population of 16 million, or roughly 60 to 80 per cent of the nation, will need to be vaccinated.

Hun Sen detailed that those who are on the priority list such as medical workers, teachers, military, police, cleaners and service workers like mototaxi and taxi drivers will receive free vaccination.

He also affirmed that all vaccinations will be done on an entirely voluntary basis.

The prime minister stressed that going ahead with this vaccine is a strategic decision for the sake of public health.

He noted that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi received his vaccination before he visited Cambodia in October last year and that China had offered to provide their vaccine around that time, but Cambodia stood back and waited to see how things went in China first.

Hun Sen said: “I strongly believe that this vaccine will help us solve the problem at least in part, even though we don’t clearly know its long-term effectiveness. But that’s true not only of the Chinese vaccine, but for the vaccines from all countries. Right now no one knows whether the protection granted by any of them lasts for months or years or for your whole life.”

To gain the public’s trust and cooperation in the vaccination campaign, the prime minister announced on January 17 that he has volunteered to be the very first person to be vaccinated.

“Two days ago, I announced to our compatriots that we had accepted an offer of assistance from China, a generous donation of one million doses of vaccine.

“Today, to increase public trust in the vaccine and back up my words with action, I would like to announce that the first dose of vaccine will be given to me.

“I must be on the front line and this is just the normal habit that I have for dozens of years. Thanks Peace! Thanks Win-Win policy,” he wrote.

As of January 14, the public had donated more than $56 million for the government to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, according to local media outlet Fresh News. Hun Sen announced that the government would stop accepting further donations from January 15 onward.

Meanwhile, The Post interviewed several people who are expected to be on the government’s priority list for vaccination, all of whom said they were willing to be vaccinated.

Teav Sothearoth, a nurse graduate from a Thailand-based university who is currently working as a voluntary medical worker, said he is willing to be vaccinated.

“I think it’s no big deal because some countries have already used this vaccine. China has vaccinated their leaders with it and the leaders of some other countries also got this vaccine. So I don’t think this vaccine will cause any problems even though it is not yet approved by WHO,” he said.

Yin Yon, a tuk tuk driver, and Chhaem Bunna, a driver for rubblish collector Cintri, said they were not concerned about the safety of the vaccine.

“I am willing to get it if it is available. This move reflects the government’s care for the health of the general public and their commitment to preventing the spread of Covid-19. To have some protection like this will be a blessing,” Bunna said.

Ra Ny, a teacher at a kindergarten in Banteay Meanchey province, said she will be vaccinated as long as it is safe. She said she believes that the vaccine must be safe and effective.

“Otherwise, Prime Minister Hun Sen would not have approved it for use in Cambodia,” Ny said.