PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups among the first to receive the additional boosters.
Front-line medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.
Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to keep their families and communities safe from COVID-19. A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.
Almost 90% of Cambodia's 16 million people have had at least one dose, over 85% have had a second shot and more than 27% have had a third, according to the government. Thanks largely to donations from close ally China, Cambodia has had enough vaccine supplies to send on to other Asian nations in need.
But the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines have been found to have less efficacy than others against the highly transmissible omicron variant, especially with the passage of time, so the fourth round of high-priority vaccinations is using Cambodia's more limited supply of Pfizer vaccines.
Neighboring Thailand, which like Cambodia was largely reliant on the Chinese vaccines during the early stages of its inoculation program last year, announced last week that fourth doses will be given to medical personnel whose third shot was at least three months ago.
Cambodia's first case of the omicron variant was confirmed in mid-December in a 23-year-old woman who returned from Ghana.
Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on Nov. 15, two weeks earlier than originally planned, in a move aimed at revitalizing the country’s economic and social activity.
Its vaccination drive started slowly but ramped up quickly. Children aged 5 and older have been included in the program since the beginning of November.
Restrictions on domestic tourism, schools and other sectors were also lifted at the start of the month.
The Health Ministry on Friday reported 10 new COVID-19 cases, all the omicron variant, with four imported and six local transmissions. Cambodia has recorded 120,728 cases, including 3,015 deaths, since the pandemic began.