Cambodians offer incense sticks at a temple to mark the start of the lunar new year in Ta Khmao, Kandal province, on Feb. 12. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Cambodia’s Ministry of Health has authorized the emergency use of China's Sinovac and Britain’s AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines despite concerns over their efficacy rates and whether they are effective against the UK variant.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved immediate use of the vaccines, according to the ministry's statement dated Feb. 12.
The government wants to inoculate about 80 percent of Cambodia’s 16 million people against the disease in a country that has weathered the pandemic relatively well compared with elsewhere.
China has said it will donate one million doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Cambodia, enough for 500,000 people. In the first phase, 600,000 doses arrived in Cambodia last week, with the country’s ruling elites receiving the first jab and 300,000 doses prioritized for the military.
“As a rising power, China of course utilizes the supply of its vaccine to enhance its soft power, as it has done with its face mask diplomacy,” Un Kheang of Cambodia Development Center said in a recent article published by the government-friendly online portal Fresh News.
“China’s assistance to Cambodia has contributed significantly to the success of the Cambodian government’s fight against Covid-19 in the country. In this critical time, the availability of the vaccine is crucial for Cambodia.
“Rich countries have pre-ordered vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, so it will take time before these vaccines are available for developing countries like Cambodia. Even then, the cost will be high compared to the vaccine produced in China.”
Cambodia has also sought vaccines from India, while Australia will spend US$27.64 million enabling the vaccination of 1.5 million people once the Covax facility, backed by the World Health Organization, becomes available.
Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at the Australian National University, said it could take up to six years to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 and just 10 percent of people in the world's 70 poorest countries would be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
“At the current rate of vaccination, it is estimated we won't reach global coverage of 75 percent with vaccines for about six years. Not one or two years, but six," Senanayake said.
"If we continue this global vaccine rollout while in other parts of the world infection continues unchecked, then we will see more sinister strains emerge which might have further impacts on vaccine efficacy.”
Cambodia has confirmed 479 cases of Covid-19 with 463 recoveries and no deaths. Its biggest concern is workers returning from Thailand, with more than 80 testing positive in recent months.
Latest cases include a 52-year-old Cambodian female worker returning from Thailand and passengers arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport, including a 66-year-old woman and a six-year-old girl who flew from the US to Cambodia late last month.