Cambodia has become the first country in the Western Pacific to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility, an unprecedented initiative designed to ensure vaccines are available for everyone, not just wealthy nations who can afford them.
The arrival of 324,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on March 2 marks the first batch of a total of 7 million doses that the country is set to receive.
More than 1 million COVAX-sourced vaccines are expected to land in the Kingdom of Cambodia by May.
Cambodia's Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said the doses would be prioritised for those most at risk of COVID-19.
"The Cambodian government's priority in the early stages of this vaccination rollout is to save lives by protecting frontline health workers, those at high risk of COVID-19 exposure or those who are likely to develop serious illness due to COVID-19," he said, according to a World Health Organisation joint news release. "This is the best approach to maximising the impact of the limited supply of vaccines available in the initial phase. Not only will vaccines help save lives, they will help to drive the country's economic recovery."
Cambodia is the first #ASEAN country to receive vaccines under the #COVAXAMC 👏 Australia’s $80m contribution to the facility will support delivery of over 25 million vaccines across ASEAN members 💉💪 #OneWorldProtected#VaccinesWork@AusAmbRHS@AusEmbPPpic.twitter.com/46cfEsRo9G— Will Nankervis (@AusAmbASEAN) March 4, 2021
Cambodia has maintained its standing as one of the world’s least impacted nations from COVID-19.
With just over 1,000 cases reported among close to 17 million citizens, the nation sits in fourth place when it comes to the lowest cases per capita globally. For the handful of countries worldwide to record zero COVID-19 deaths, Cambodia has the largest population size by almost 10 million.
Just days after the vaccines touched down in Cambodia, another COVAX instalment made its way to the Philippines.
"The long days and nights of waiting are finally over," Philippines Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a statement. "With every dose that we will administer, we are inching towards a safer recovery from this pandemic. So, let us put our trust in science, in vaccines. Together, we will rise as a nation and heal as one."
Cambodia and the Philippines, both Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, have received the first of more than 32 million COVID-19 doses to be distributed to ASEAN nations through the COVAX facility this year.
Australia long advocated for the Philippines to receive support and vaccines through the facility and pledged $80 million to the initiative back in August to ensure vaccines reach Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries, including Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea and Laos.