After slow starts, some vaccination rates in Asia skyrocket

PHNOM PENH – When Cambodia deployed COVID-19[female[feminine vaccines, queues stretch out across entire streets and people abandon their shoes to save their places out of the sun. But three months after the start of his campaign, only 11% of the population had received at least one dose. In a much richer Japan, it took two more weeks to reach this level.

Today, both countries have some of the best vaccination rates in the world. These are two of the many countries in the Asia-Pacific region that started their vaccination campaigns slowly, but have since overtaken the United States and many countries in Europe.

Countries with high rates include both the richest and the poorest, some with larger populations and others with smaller populations. But all of them have experience with infectious diseases, like SARS, and strong vaccine supply programs, many of which have spread their risk by ordering from multiple manufacturers.

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Most started to vaccinate relatively late due to complacency amid low infection rates, initial supply issues and other factors. But by the time they did, the rising death toll in the United States, Britain and India helped persuade even skeptics to embrace the efforts.

“I was worried, but at the moment we are living under the threat of COVID-19. There is no choice but to get vaccinated, ”said Rath Sreymom, who rushed to get her daughter, Nuth Nyra, 5, vaccinated after Cambodia opened its program to her. age group this month.

Cambodia was one of the first countries in the region to launch its vaccination program with a launch on February 10 – still two months after the United States and Britain started theirs. As elsewhere in the region, deployment has been slow, and by early May, as the Delta variant began to spread rapidly, only 11% of its 16 million people had received at least their first injection, according to Our World in Data. . This is about half the rate achieved in the United States during the same period and a third of that in the United Kingdom.

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Today, Cambodia is 78% fully vaccinated, compared to 58% in the United States. It now offers reminders and plans to extend its program to children aged 3 and 4.

Since the start, there has been strong demand for the vaccine, with the rollout to the general public in April coinciding with a massive wave of cases in India, from which grim images of bodies being burned outside crematoria have emerged. overwhelmed.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has leveraged his close ties to Beijing to procure nearly 37 million doses from China, some of which have been donated. He said last week that Cambodia’s “vaccination victory” could not have happened without them. The country has also received large donations from the United States, Japan, Great Britain and the international COVAX program.

Still, it took time to secure sufficient supplies, and many countries in the region that started their programs afterwards struggled even more, especially when the region’s main producer, India, pulled back. suspended vaccine exports during its spring surge.

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“Certainly putting the supply in place was really important to the countries that were particularly successful,” said John Fleming, Red Cross Asia-Pacific health officer. “Then there’s the creation side of demand – it’s clearly about getting buy-in and also reaching out to marginalized groups. “

At the start of the pandemic, many Asian countries imposed strict lockdown and travel rules that largely kept the virus at bay. As vaccines were rolled out in force elsewhere, these low rates sometimes worked against them, giving some people the impression that getting vaccinated was not urgent.

But when the virulent delta variant began to spread throughout the region, cases increased, encouraging people to enroll.

Some countries, like Malaysia, have gone the extra mile to ensure that even the hardest to reach groups are offered the vaccine. He asked for help from the Red Cross to vaccinate people living illegally in the country and other groups who might have feared showing up for a government-sponsored vaccination.

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“We have made the vaccine accessible to everyone, no questions asked,” said Professor Sazaly Abu Bakar, director of the Center for Tropical Infectious Disease Education and Research.

As with Cambodia and Japan, Malaysia has made progress in its first three months, giving less than 5% of its 33 million people their first dose during that time, according to Our World in Data.

When cases increased, however, Malaysia bought more doses and established hundreds of vaccination centers, including mega-hubs capable of delivering up to 10,000 injections per day. The country now has 76% of its population fully vaccinated.

To date, a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region have vaccinated more than 70% of their population or are close to doing so, including Australia, China, Japan and Bhutan. In Singapore, 92% are fully vaccinated.

Some countries in Asia, however, continued to struggle. India celebrated the administration of its billionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine in October, but with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, which translates to a full vaccination rate of 29%. Indonesia started earlier than most, but also stumbled, largely due to the challenge of expanding its countryside across the thousands of islands that make up its archipelago.

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Japan’s immunization schedule was notoriously slow – moving slowly as the world wondered if it would be able to host the Summer Olympics. It didn’t start until mid-February as it required additional clinical testing on Japanese people before using the vaccines – a move that was widely criticized as unnecessary. It was also initially affected by supply issues.

But then he took a turn. Then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga brought in military medical personnel to run mass vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka and twisted the laws to allow dentists, paramedics and lab technicians to give injections alongside doctors and nurses.

The number of daily doses administered increased to around 1.5 million in July, and the country is now about 76% fully immunized. Much of Japan’s success is due to the public response, said Makoto Shimoaraiso, a senior official in charge of the country’s response to COVID-19.

Many in Japan are generally skeptical about vaccines, but after seeing deaths soar around the world, that hasn’t been a problem.

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In fact, retiree Kiyoshi Goto is already clamoring for his next shot, as he looks with suspicion on the increase in the number of cases in Europe.

“I want to get a booster shot as our antibody levels go down,” said the 75-year-old.

In Phnom Penh, Nuth Nyra was just happy to have it first, saying she was afraid of COVID-19 before – but not anymore.

“I felt a bit of pain when I got the vaccine,” the girl said softly at a vaccination center on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital. “But I didn’t cry.”


Increase reported from Bangkok. Associated Press editors Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.


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