Over one million doses of the US-manufactured Johnson & Johnson vaccines – donated to Cambodia by the US government – are expected to touch down in Phnom Penh soon to help the Kingdom accelerate its vaccination drive, the US embassy has confirmed.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccines are notable in that they only require one dose to be effective and can be stored and transported using standard refrigeration.
The US embassy said on July 28 that the first batch will arrive on the morning of July 30 at Phnom Penh International Airport, while the second shipment is expected on August 2.
“This donation is part of the United States’ ongoing support for the people of Cambodia and the region as it recovers from this devastating pandemic,” the embassy said in a press statement.
US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy said last week that his government was coordinating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF to ship the vaccines through the WHO-led Covax Facility.
On July 27, the embassy’s charge d’affaires Benjamin Wohlauer sent an invitation to Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng for the reception of the 1,060,100 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“This donation has been made possible through the strong collaboration of the US government, Cambodia’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF, WHO, Gavi and many others,” Benjamin Wohlauer wrote in the letter.
“The United States government remains a committed partner in improving the health of the Cambodian people. We will continue our efforts to support the Royal Government of Cambodia’s work to prevent further Covid-19 transmission and remediate pandemic impacts on public health and the economy,” he said.
Cambodia had requested four million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the US on humanitarian grounds in May of this year.
Health minister Mam Bun Heng could not be reached for comment regarding the US-donated vaccines.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Koy Kuong said he did not have any further information besides the fact that the US had committed to providing these vaccines.
On July 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen received the first batch of 332,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which were a portion of the one million doses pledged by the Japanese government.
On February 7, Hun Sen also attended a ceremony for the reception of 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China.
It was not immediately clear if Hun Sen will be at the airport personally to receive these vaccines as he did when those donated by Japan and China arrived.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he could not speak on Hun Sen’s behalf and that these matters generally depended on diplomatic protocols and whether time was available to attend, among other factors.
“I can’t say for sure. Only Samdech [Hun Sen] can determine such things based on his own protocols. Generally, when countries first provide vaccine assistance, Samdech has personally welcomed the arrival of that assistance. I can only say that it is possible that he could go and receive these vaccines,” he said.
Siphan noted that the donation was a positive sign that the US was still respecting the principles of multilateralism and not discriminating against any country.
“For Cambodia, although there are misunderstandings on some issues or in some sectors, now is the time for all of us to engage multilaterally and join hands to fight the pandemic.
“Cambodia continues to cooperate well with the US and appreciates their assistance in areas such as mine clearance and temple conservation, among others,” he said.
Asian Vision Institute president Chheang Vannarith said the arrival of the vaccines was good news for Cambodia, a nation that he said warmly welcomes and embraces all vaccines from all countries.
“I think Prime Minister Hun Sen will attend the handover ceremony at the airport as he did with the vaccines donated by China and Japan.
“Cambodia’s foreign policy is open and inclusive. Vaccines should not be politicised. Global immunisation is an urgent matter. No country is safe until every country is safe,” Vannarith said, referencing the propensity for the virus to mutate into new and potentially deadlier strains as long as it continues to spread anywhere.
As of July 27, Cambodia had vaccinated over 70 per cent of its targeted adult population of 10 million.
Vaccinations for the 12-17 age group will kick off on August 1 and the Kingdom is also considering providing third doses or booster shots to provide further immunity against the Delta strain of the virus.