Cambodia refuses to be ‘guinea pig’ for China’s Covid vaccine

(NST) – In an apparent snub to its close ally China, Cambodia announced that it will not allow itself to become a guinea pig for any vaccines developed.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said that even if a country gives it the Covid-19 vaccine, which is not yet approved by the World Health Organisation 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, according to the Khmer Times.

“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.”

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

Meanwhile, Nikkei Asia reports that Cambodia will acquire one million doses for its first batch of Covid-19 vaccinations but is not opting for China’s Sinovac shots at this stage.

Hun Sen said the vaccine stocks had been ordered via the United Nations-backed COVAX facility, which subsidises vaccines for 92 lower income countries.

The programme – run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – provides support for poor countries to acquire vaccines for 20 per cent of their populations, though beneficiary states may be required to share costs of up to US$2 per dose.

It will provide access to treatments approved by the WHO.

Nikkei said this position appears to rule out any early deal to secure the Sinovac vaccine from China, which has pledged to support vaccine efforts in Cambodia, its closest ally in the region.

In August, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Mekong countries they would be given priority once the China-developed vaccine is ready.

Hun Sen said Cambodia aims to acquire 26 million doses to inoculate 13 million of Cambodia’s 16 million citizens for free.

He said the government would allocate between US$100 million and US$200 million to pay for the vaccine.

The government has also received more than US$48 million in donations from more than 38,000 people.

Among the biggest pledges, the Malaysian billionaire boss of Cambodia’s biggest casino, NagaWorld, donated US$5 million.

Several mega-rich local tycoons, known as “oknha,” have also given multi-million donations.

In his almost four hour speech, Hun Sen also noted that the government had already received a US$250 million loan from the Asian Development Bank, more than US$238 million from Japan International Cooperation Agency, and US$50 million from South Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund for its efforts to fight the virus.

He said Cambodia will build a special ultra-cold warehouse to store Covid-19 vaccines.

“A warehouse will be built to store vaccines from 0 down to -80 degrees Celsius,” he said.

He also ordered the Ministers of Health and Finance to discuss the purchase of a truck to transport vaccines at sub-zero temperature.

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.