For those who have been following the COVID-19 trial of events for the past week, it has been interesting to note how Cambodia has switched from only sourcing an approved vaccine by WHO to one that is yet to be approved and endorsed by the world health authorities.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had to make this swift decision taking into account the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases that was unfortunately brought into the Kingdom by migrant workers from Thailand.
The turn of events came as a worry to the Kingdom and Mr Hun Sen was fortunate when China offered to donate one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
The acceptance also marks that Mr Hun Sen will be the first to receive the Sinopharm vaccine dose when the first batch of 300,000 doses of the vaccine arrives early next month.
This move is to give assurance to Cambodians that the Sinopharm vaccine doses are safe to be taken.
The premier also made a request, through the Indian Ambassador in Cambodia Dr Devyani Uttam Khobragade to also get India to donate its vaccine to the Kingdom. Defence Minister General Tea Banh will submit an official letter requesting the Russian government to provide Russian-developed doses.
While the Government’s initiative has been applauded by many, there were criticisms as to whether there is a compromise to the quality of the vaccines and also transparency on the government’s management of the vaccines and the vaccine budget.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the Prime Minister’s requests are simply diplomatic collaborations bound by a common goal to contain or curb the spread of the virus.
As to the vaccine budget, Siphan claims the government has adequate funds to buy them for its people, even without public donations which according to the Premier had reached almost $60 million.
“The government has its reserve to buy the COVID-19 vaccines, and we never called for donations, but instead, the public voluntarily donated the money to contribute to the cause of fighting COVID-19,” he said.
Siphan added the government has stopped accepting donations for the COVAX initiative and assistance from international partners as they have assured Cambodia there will be enough vaccines for its people.
“The donations will be redirected into other related causes such as supporting people in quarantine,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chan Sophal, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, says the request for vaccines from other countries makes perfect economic sense for Cambodia amid the economic crisis after having spent much of its national reserve to fight the pandemic last year.
“As a developing nation, we still need a lot of resources to develop our infrastructure and human resources. The nation needs to also focus on its resources for economic restoration in the post-pandemic era,” he added.
Executive Director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability San Chey, meanwhile, called for more transparency in its efforts to introduce the vaccine in Cambodia.
“Due to the lack of credible information, many people are worried about the vaccines’ side effects and the challenges it poses to Cambodians,” Chey said, adding this is worsened by fake news, which may result in them not accepting the vaccine.
Pakistan yesterday became the latest country to seek China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use while India announced that it will supply its vaccines under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles.
Meanwhile, Russia reported that EpiVacCorona, its second COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Vector Institute, has shown 100 percent efficacy.