Cambodia may get the first delivery of the coronavirus vaccine in March 2021, according to the local office of the World Health Organization, as Prime Minister Hun Sen's government made its first moves to acquire the much-wanted vaccine.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday that the country was financially prepared to pre-order one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, though officials were yet to determine which vaccine to order.
Only a handful of vaccines globally have received emergency approval for use among the general public, with rollout expected to take at least until mid-2021, according to experts. Several countries had already placed their vaccine orders months ago when they were still in the early stages of testing.
The two-dose vaccination, which would suffice for 500,000 people, would be prioritized for medical workers, teachers, the armed forces, judicial officials, and urban waste collectors, Hun Sen said.
Li Ailan, the head of the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said that the earliest Cambodia could access a vaccine would be March 2021, because pharmaceutical companies were only just getting approvals from medical regulators to produce mass quantities of the vaccine.
“Vaccines will be an important tool in fighting COVID-19, but even the most effective vaccines will not end the pandemic on their own,” Li Ailan said. “It may take some time before COVID-19 vaccines become widely available.”
Cambodia is one of the 92 least developed countries listed by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance on Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI) in its COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
“Through COVAX, Cambodia will receive vaccine support equivalent to 20 percent of doses for the total population,” Li Ailan added.
Hun Sen's announcement of the government's tentative COVID-19 vaccination plan comes as authorities are fighting to contain a new outbreak of the disease, where after more than 10,000 tests, medical officials have uncovered 34 confirmed cases.
Several influential business tycoons have also pledged at least $30 million in the last two days to support the government's vaccination purchase.
Sophal Ear, an associate professor at the Los Angeles-based Occidental College questioned the source of these funds and called the entire exercise "feudal."
"[O]f course, where did the Oknhas get their money? From who else, but the people, through shady monopoly deals and concessions that have jacked-up the price of everything in Cambodia."
Lim Solinn, country director at Oxfam, welcomed the government's plan as well as the pledges for millions of dollars to acquire a vaccine.
She urged the government to be transparent, accountable, and equitable in managing the resources and distribution of vaccines.
“We would like to encourage the government to conduct the resource management and vaccine distribution appropriately and comprehensively,” Solinn told VOA Khmer.
“It’s extremely important that the information and updates are open and universal.”
Cambodia has recorded 350 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, with no reported deaths and 43 active cases, according to the Health Ministry.
Spokespersons at the Finance Ministry and Health Ministry declined to comment on the vaccination plan.