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US Says COVID-19 Vaccines “Don’t Come with Strings Attached”


500,000 doses of a total​ of one million doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, donated by the United States through COVAX, are being delivered to Cambodia on July 30, 2021, at the Phnom Penh International Airport, Cambodia. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)

Cambodia received more than 450,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine from the United States Friday morning, with the U.S. Embassy official saying the vaccines came with “no strings attached.”

The U.S has pledged more than 1 million doses of the U.S.-made vaccine through the global COVAX program, with the first batch of vaccines being received Friday morning by U.S. Embassy official Benjamin Wohlauer and Health Minister Mam Bunheng. The second batch will arrive early next week.

“Let me stress that we don’t share these doses to secure favor or extract concession. Our vaccines don’t come with strings attached. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead global efforts to bring an end to the pandemic,” Wohlauer said at the Phnom Penh International Airport.

Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng, right, receives the first batch of donated one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines from U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Ben Wohlauer at a handover ceremony at Phnom Penh International Airport, July 30, 2021. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng, right, receives the first batch of donated one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines from U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Ben Wohlauer at a handover ceremony at Phnom Penh International Airport, July 30, 2021. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)

The embassy official called the vaccines a “gift from the American people” and was part of the U.S.’ longstanding commitment to public health in Cambodia.

The U.S. and Cambodia are in a tenuous phase of the bilateral relationship over alleged Chinese military presence at the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.

While Prime Minister Hun Sen has personally received vaccines from China and Japan – the latter delivered AstraZeneca vaccines last week – but was not present at the U.S. vaccine delivery.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesperson, said the decision on whether to attend a specific event or not was dependent on the prime minister’s schedule and availability.

“It is the decision of the prime minister which no one else can make that order,” he said.

A post on Hun Sen’s Facebook page said that the “gift” was part of the U.S.’ continuous efforts to support Cambodians and to help fight back a surge of the cases in the region.

500,000 doses of a total of one million doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, donated by the United States through COVAX, are being delivered to Cambodia on July 30, 2021, at the Phnom Penh International Airport, Cambodia. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)
500,000 doses of a total of one million doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, donated by the United States through COVAX, are being delivered to Cambodia on July 30, 2021, at the Phnom Penh International Airport, Cambodia. (Hean Socheata/VOA Khmer)

Sophal Ear, an associate professor at the Occidental College in California, U.S., said the prime minister’s absence could be interpreted as a “snub.”

“Alas, doing this might be perceived as being ungrateful, which would only cause the Cambodian people to pay the price when donations of vital vaccines are not forthcoming,” he said.

“In any case, with a surge in infections happening due to the Delta variant, this is not a situation where you want to bite the hand that saves you.”

Around 7 million Cambodian adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the vaccination drive moving to the provinces after nearly all adults were vaccinated in Phnom Penh, according to Health Ministry data. On Sunday, the government will start vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 with Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines.

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