The government has already ordered one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVAX initiative for distribution to the first 500,000 priority recipients in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed on December 15 in his address to the nation.
“I can confirm that we have already applied for the 20 per cent provision in accordance with COVAX procedures, and we have also ordered a purchase of one million more doses through COVAX. When it will come to us I cannot say, but I want to stress that Cambodia will only buy vaccines from countries certified by the WHO.
“Cambodia will not use its own people to test a vaccine from any company or any country. This is [my] unwavering position,” Hun Sen said.
“We do not yet know from which country the vaccine will be procured. According to news reports, a determination as to which vaccine we will get could come in January,” he added.
Because each vaccination will require two shots, Cambodia would need a total of 26 million doses of the vaccine, covering 13 million people, or 80 per cent of the population. When the vaccines arrive, they will be stored in a warehouse now under construction and maintained at a temperature of -80 degrees Celsius, Hun Sen said.
COVAX vows to provide vaccines initially for three per cent, and then up to 20 per cent, of a country’s population. For Cambodia, this would entail eventually receiving 6.4 million doses to vaccinate 3.2 million people. For the first stage roll-out, however, the nation can anticipate only about half a million doses.
That is why Cambodia needs to buy an additional million doses, Hun Sen explained.
The first half million people to be vaccinated would include over 400,000 individuals prioritised by the Ministry of Health. Among them would be healthcare workers, teachers, military and police, court staff and attorneys, waste collectors, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, clergy, and athletes.
Government officials from departments of prisons, fisheries and forestry, tax and customs, health, education and utilities, at the national and local levels, would also be given priority.
In order to make the nation resilient to the virus, the prime minister anticipated that four-fifths of the total population – everyone 15 years-old and above – would ultimately get vaccinated for free.
Hun Sen expressed his appreciation and national pride in response to the public voluntarily embracing the government’s plans for vaccine procurement and distribution.
“When I come to talk about the vaccine issue, I get goosebumps. I did not expect it would become such a huge national movement and a foundation for the protection of public health. This is a widespread and deeply felt belief across our nation. The spirit of solidarity and national unity – it’s overwhelmingly.
“The hearts of our brothers and sisters are enormous, and the generosity comes from all walks of life – from workers, people with disabilities, artists, actors – from everywhere,” he said.
As of December 14, more than 38,000 Cambodians had donated upwards of $49 million for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines. The government expects to spend $100 - $200 million, including the public’s charity funds, to purchase the vaccine from COVAX, Hun Sen said.
Aside from the vaccine budget, Cambodia has $538 million cash on hand available for fighting Covid-19 and economic recovery afterwards. That sum represents a $250 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a $238 million loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and a $50 million loan from South Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF). It does not include the government’s reserves, Hun Sen said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he trusted medical experts and strictly followed their instructions to protect himself from this virus.
“I would trust them rather than non-experts when it comes to the vaccination strategic plan,” he said.