Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 4 became the first person in Cambodia to get the AstraZeneca jab, which was provided through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility and whose first shipment of 324,000 does touched down in Phnom Penh on March 2.
Hun Sen was vaccinated at Calmette Hospital along with his wife Bun Rany and other senior officials including health minister Mam Bun Heng, interior minister Sar Kheng and public works minister Sun Chanthol.
During a press conference held after the vaccination, the prime minister announced that he would distribute the AstraZeneca jabs to three areas at high risk of infections – Kandal and Preah Sihanouk provinces and Phnom Penh.
“Those are the places that we need to give priority to for vaccination, and I’ve discussed that with the health ministry. Vaccination isn’t just for civil servants, though. I’m asking the ministry to provide it to anyone aged 60 or over and consider it an emergency vaccination to save lives at this point,” Hun Sen said.
He estimated that with the current supply, they could vaccinate between 100,000 and 130,000 people using 200,000 to 260,000 of the AstraZeneca doses currently available, targeting people aged 60 or older in the three priority capital and provinces.
“We’re doing our part and making the vaccines available to Cambodia. With some of the remaining vaccines we have in reserve, we need to give priority to a number of officials like diplomats and UN staff members, people representing certain financial institutions and also the foreign NGOs staff members who are working here. They will all get the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.
The prime minister said diplomats and foreign nationals working for registered NGOs in Cambodia would be given access to free vaccination and without age restrictions. He said the decision is Cambodia’s gesture of goodwill as host to many development partners.
Hun Sen noted that there are age limits for Cambodians, with anyone 59 years old or younger receiving the Sinopharm vaccine and those aged 60 or older getting the AstraZeneca jab.
Despite the vaccination campaign, Hun Sen reiterated that vaccines are not a golden ticket that will instantly end the pandemic. He said vaccines are a strategic measure and it will take time to deploy them widely, so everyone must follow the preventive health measures.
As of March 3, Cambodia has vaccinated a total of 125,668 people against Covid-19 – 84,758 members of the armed forces and 40,910 civilians.
World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Cambodia Dr Li Ailan said at the AstraZeneca vaccine handover ceremony on March 2 that WHO was working closely with Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and UNICEF to ensure fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
“We are proud to be working in this unique situation, in addition to implementing public health measures. Covid-19 vaccine is another important new tool for protecting people, protecting the health system from over-pressure and saving lives,” she said.
UNICEF representative to Cambodia Foroogh Foyouzat said the new vaccine would create an opportunity to change the direction of the global epidemic.