Cambodia’s Hun Sen Asks Washington for Money, Not Vaccine

U.S.-based Pfizer’s vaccine requires cold storage Cambodia lacks, so cash would buy AstraZaneca’s from UK
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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Asks Washington for Money, Not Vaccine Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks with media during a news conference at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam October 4, 2019.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that the country is unable to use coronavirus vaccines from the United States because storage of the vaccine requires an ultra-cold freezer.

The prime minister made the remarks in a speech at the opening of a water treatment facility in the capital Phnom Penh. Cambodia currently lacks the capacity to store the vaccine developed by Pfizer, which must be stored at between -80 and -60°C (-112 to -76°F).

“We would accept the help of [a vaccine] from the U.S., but the vaccine needs to be stored at below 76°F, so Cambodia cannot use it,” Hun Sen said.

“If the U.S. wants to help, please send money instead as Australia has, so Cambodia can purchase the AstraZaneca vaccine,” he said.

The British-Swedish developed AztraZaneca vaccine can be stored and transported at temperatures between 2 and 8°C (35.6° to 46.4°F)

The prime minister also said that he would not be the first in the country to receive the vaccine from China as he had said previously, saying he would prefer that medical personnel receive it before him.

“I previously emphasized that when the Chinese vaccine arrives in Cambodia, I would go to the airport to welcome it and I would get the first shot. But the problem is, the person injecting the vaccine will not have received it yet,” he said.

“Let us ask the prime minister of Singapore and the president of Indonesia who have received the vaccine. If they got their shots from doctors who themselves hadn’t received it first, I will follow their example,” said Hun Sen.

The prime minister said Cambodia will receive its first batch of 600,000 vaccine doses from China this month.

The Chinese vaccine rollout has been marred by safety concerns. The New York Times reported in November that three of four Chinese candidate vaccines in late-stage human testing had at that time been made available to tens of thousands.

The BBC reported in January that although one of China’s vaccines have been approved for emergency use since July, phase three trials in several different countries showed widely differing efficacy rate, with Brazil initially saying it was 78 percent effective only to revise the figure to 50.4 percent as more data came in.

Cambodians should avoid Chinese vaccines, as they are not officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), a former member of the National Assembly from the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“I appeal to Khmer people not to get the hazardous Chinese vaccines. Let’s wait a little bit longer. I believe that when the developed countries produce enough vaccines, they will help to provide us with their safer alternatives,” Gnem Nheng said.

Cambodia has confirmed only 466 cases of the virus within its borders with no deaths.

As Cambodia does not face grave danger, the country can afford to wait, San Chey, the executive director of the Cambodia office of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) told RFA.

“We don’t need to be hasty. We should take time to study our options thoroughly. It is not bad to wait a bit longer. We are not in an emergency or in panic mode compared to other countries. This means we are still under control,” San Chey said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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