After a slow start, vaccination explodes in parts of Asia – archyde

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) – When Cambodia began vaccinating against COVID-19, queues stretched across streets and people left their shoes on to guard the grounds while protecting themselves from the sun. But three months later, only 11% of the population had received at least one dose. In Japan, a much richer country, it took another two weeks to reach that number.

The two countries are now among the best vaccination rates in the world. They are two of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region that started their vaccination campaigns slowly, but later overtook the United States and many European countries.

Among the countries with high rates are rich and poor, some more populous and some less. But they all have experience with infectious diseases like SARS and strong vaccination programs, and many have been able to diversify risks by ordering from multiple manufacturers.

Most started vaccinating relatively late because of too much confidence in the low infection rate, initial supply problems, and other factors. But when they did, the skyrocketing death toll in the United States, Britain, and India helped convince even skeptics to get vaccinated.

“It worried me, but at the moment we are living under the threat of COVID-19. There is no choice but to get vaccinated, ”said Rath Sreymon, who was rushing to bring her daughter, 5-year-old Nuth Nyra, when Cambodia opened vaccination for her age group this month.

Cambodia was one of the first countries in the region to launch its vaccination campaign on February 10, two months later than the United States and Britain. Like elsewhere in the region, the operation started slowly, and by early May, when the delta variant was rapidly spreading, only 11% of the 16 million people had received at least one injection, according to Our World in Data. It’s about half what the United States had achieved in that time, and a third of the UK’s advance.

Cambodia has now vaccinated 78% of its population compared to 58% in the United States. She is now offering booster doses and is considering expanding her program to include three- and four-year-olds.

From the beginning there was a strong demand for the vaccine. The opening of the campaign to the general population in April coincided with a huge surge in infections in India, accompanied by creepy images of pyre in front of overcrowded crematoria.

Prime Minister Hun Sen used his close ties with Beijing to source nearly 37 million cans from China, some of which have been donated. Last week he said that without her, Cambodia’s “vaccination victory” would not have been possible. The country also received large donations from the US, Japan, the UK and the international COVAX program.

Still, it took time to get adequate supplies, and many countries in the region that later began their campaigns faced even more problems, especially when the region’s main producer, India, stopped exporting vaccines during its spring wave.

“Obviously, sourcing supplies for countries that did particularly well was very important,” said John Fleming, Red Cross director of health for the Asia-Pacific region. “Then there is the aspect of creating demand, which clearly consists of reaching the interest of the population and reaching out to marginalized groups.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, many countries in Asia imposed strict quarantine and travel regulations that kept the virus in check. While vaccines were being distributed at a good pace elsewhere, those numbers sometimes turned against them because they gave some people the impression that vaccination was not urgent.

But as the virulent Delta variant began to hit the region, infections rose and more people were encouraged to schedule an appointment.

Some countries, like Malaysia, have made extra efforts to ensure that the vaccine is offered to the hardest-to-reach groups. The government reached out to the Red Cross to vaccinate people living in the country without a permit and other groups who may have feared going to a government vaccination center.

“We made the vaccine available to everyone without question,” said Professor Sazaly Abu Bakar, director of the Center for Education and Research on Tropical Infectious Diseases.

Like Cambodia and Japan, Malaysia made slow progress in the first three months, giving its first dose to less than 5% of its 33 million people during that period, according to Our World in Data.

But as cases rose, Malaysia bought more doses and set up hundreds of vaccination centers, including large rooms that could give up to 10,000 doses a day. The country has now fully vaccinated 76% of its population.

To date, a dozen countries in Asia Pacific have vaccinated or are about to vaccinate more than 70% of their populations, such as Australia, China, Japan and Bhutan. 92% of the people in Singapore are vaccinated.

However, some countries in Asia continue to have problems. India celebrated in October that it had given a billion doses, but with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, that means only 29% of people have the full schedule. Indonesia started earlier than most but has also slowed down, in part due to the challenge of getting its campaign to the thousands of islands that make up its archipelago.

Japan’s vaccination program has been particularly slow, dragging on as the world wondered if it could host the Olympics. It didn’t start until mid-February because it required additional clinical trials on Japanese before it could start, which has been widely criticized as unnecessary. It also had supply problems initially.

But then he jumped. Then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga used military medical personnel to operate vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka, and enforced loopholes to allow dentists, paramedics and lab technicians to vaccinate alongside doctors and nurses.

The number of doses administered rose to about 1.5 million in July, and the country has now vaccinated around 76% of its population. Much of Japan’s success is due to the public response, said Makoto Shimoaraiso, the senior official responsible for Japan’s response to COVID-19.

In Japan, many people are generally skeptical of vaccines. But after seeing the death toll skyrocket around the world, it wasn’t a problem.

In fact, Kiyoshi Goto, a retired Japanese man, is already asking about his next dose as he is concerned about the increase in cases in Europe.

“I want to get a booster dose because our antibody levels are dropping,” said the 75-year-old man.

In Phnom Penh, Nuth Nyra was delighted with her first dose, saying she was previously afraid of COVID-19, but no longer.

“I was in a bit of pain when they gave me the vaccine,” said the girl at a vaccination center outside the Cambodian capital. “But I didn’t cry.”


Bangkok uprising reported. Associate Press Journalist 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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