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Cambodia will only purchase vaccines approved by WHO

Khann Chanvirak / Khmer Times Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the nation in a live telecast yesterday. KT/Khem Sovannara

The government will not allow Cambodians to become guinea pigs for any vaccines developed.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that even if a country gives the COVID-19 vaccine which is not yet approved by the World Health Organization for free, he will refuse to accept it to safeguard the people’s health.

“If the vaccine is not approved for use and we use it to inoculate people it may cause death or seriously affect health, that will be very unfortunate,” he said in a nationally televised address.

“We are willing to sit back and wear facemasks while waiting [for a vaccine to get approved],” he added.

Mr Hun Sen said his position is to follow the recommendation of the Ministry of Health to not use any vaccine that has yet to be  approved by the WHO.

“I would not allow Cambodians to be used for a vaccine trial conducted by any country or company unless it is approved by the WHO,” he said. “Cambodia will buy doses from countries only if the WHO approves the vaccines.”

Mr Hun Sen said some countries have already produced and launched COVID-19 vaccines, but none have been approved by the WHO, not even those from Russia, China, the United States, Britain or Germany.

The Prime Minister also said the government has received about $48 million and about $975,000 riels in donations for the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine from over 38,411 philanthropists.

“I did not expect this great national movement which I name as the pillar to protect the people,” he said, referring to the donations.

Mr Hun Sen noted that the government has already received a $250 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), more than $238 million from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and $50 million from South Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) for its efforts to fight the virus.

“We have already reserved a budget of between $100 million and $200 million to purchase COVID-19 vaccines under the [WHO-led] Covax initiative,” he said. “We will have 13 million people vaccinated which requires 26 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Mr Hun Sen added that under the Covax initiative the country will only get vaccines for about 20 percent (3.2 million people) out of 16 million population or 6.4 million doses.

He said the government has ordered an additional one million doses of vaccine from the initiative.

“We need to vaccinate around 80 percent of the people (13 million people). Children do not need to be vaccinated. Therefore, only those aged above 15 years will be receiving doses free of charge,” he added.

Mr Hun Sen said that the first one million doses of vaccines will be used to vaccinate 500,000 people.

He said priority will be given to high-risk groups including garbage collectors, taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, religious leaders, sports players, troops, education workers, health workers, prison officials and those from other government agencies as well as teachers and others involved in education.

There is no price set on the COVID-19 vaccine.

On a related issue, Mr Hun Sen said that Cambodia will build a special warehouse to store COVID-19 vaccines.

“A warehouse will be built to store vaccines from 0 down to -80 degrees Celsius,” he said. “In the past, the government only installed air conditioners at the health centres to store vaccines, but now we also need to build [a warehouse] to store the COVID-19 vaccine, including the needles.”

Mr Hun Sen also ordered the Ministers of Health and Finance to discuss the purchase of a truck to transport vaccines at sub-zero temperatures.

Of the vaccines being rolled out so far, only the one from Pfizer has to be stored at -80 degrees. Sinovac from China can be stored at normal fridge temperatures of  between two and eight degrees.

On the “November 28 community incident”, Mr Hun Sen said the situation was under control but not fully contained.

He ordered the Ministry of Health and local authorities to continue to monitor those involved  to ensure that there is no further community outbreak.

“Let the people continue to maintain this situation for the safety of all. The announcement of the end of the incident cannot be completed before January 11, 2021 or possibly  maybe even after January 20, 2021,” he said.

Mr Hun Sen said 18,828 people had been tested following the incident, of whom 1,468 were in Phnom Penh.

In provinces, 1,213 were tested in Kandal, 1,010 in Kratie, 512 in Siem Reap, 428 in Banteay Meanchey, 322 in Battambang, 300 in Prey Veng, 248 in Kampong Thom, 167 in Kampong Cham, 131 in Mondulkiri, 123 in Takeo, 118 in Stung Treng, 112 in Tboung Khmum, 72 in Preah Sihanouk, 59 in Pursat, 49 in Kampong Chhnang, 44 in Oddar Meanchey, 38 in Kampot, 33 in Ratanakiri, 24 in Koh Kong, 13 in Kep, nine in Kampong Speu, eight in Pailin, seven in Preah Vihear and six in Svay Rieng.

According to a press release from the Ministry of Health yesterday, 41 patients were involved in the “November 28 community incident” from November 28 to December 14, of whom three have recovered.

The recoveries were identified as the director-general of Prisons Lieutenant General Chhem Savuth, an official of the Ministry of Interior and a woman relative of Lt Gen Savuth’s driver.

As of yesterday, a total of 362 cases have been confirmed in Cambodia and 312 cases have recovered with 50 still hospitalised.

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