Some Asian Countries Have Highest Vaccination Rates

02 December 2021

When Cambodia first began offering COVID-19 vaccinations, people waited in long lines. But three months into its campaign, just 11 percent of Cambodia's population had received at least one vaccine dose.

In Japan, it took two weeks longer to reach that level.

Now both countries have vaccination rates that are among the world's best. The Asian countries with high rates include rich and poor nations. Some are big and some are small. But all have experience with infectious diseases. The viral disease related to COVID-19, SARS, caused an outbreak in 2002.

FILE - Young people line up for Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine at the Phnom Penh Thmey Health Center, during a campaign in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
FILE - Young people line up for Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine at the Phnom Penh Thmey Health Center, during a campaign in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The Asian countries with high vaccination rates also chose to order vaccines from several different manufacturers.

Some Asian nations started later than others

Most of the highly-vaccinated Asian countries started offering shots later than other places, including the United States. By the time the nations started injecting their citizens, countries like the U.S., Britain and India were reporting rising numbers of deaths. That helped to get people who had doubts to get vaccinated.

"I did worry, but at the moment we are living under the threat of COVID-19. There is no option but to be vaccinated," said Rath Sreymom, a Cambodian mother. She took her five-year-old daughter, Nuth Nyra, to get a shot once Cambodia opened its program to her age group.

Cambodia was one of the earlier countries in the Asia-Pacific area to start its vaccination program. It launched its effort on February 10. That was still two months after the United States and Britain began theirs.

The effort began slowly. By early May, the Delta variant, a new version of the virus, was spreading quickly around the world. At the time, just 11 percent of Cambodia's 16 million people had gotten their first shot, Our World in Data reported. During the first three months of the United States offering vaccines, about 20 percent of the population had gotten their first shot.

But today, Cambodia is 78 percent fully vaccinated, compared to 58 percent in the United States. Cambodia is now offering booster shots. It is considering extending its program to children as young as three.

From the beginning, Cambodia has seen strong demand for the vaccine. Prime Minister Hun Sen used his close ties with China to order nearly 37 million doses from China, some of which were donated. Cambodia also received large donations from the U.S., Japan, Britain and from the international COVAX program.

Still, it took time to get enough supplies. Many other Asian countries that started their programs later struggled even more.

The problems increased when India, the region's major vaccine producer, suspended vaccine exports.

Many Asian countries put in place extreme stay-at-home measures and travel rules that kept the virus numbers low.

But when the Delta variant began spreading through the region, cases rose quickly. And people signed up to get vaccinated.

Malaysia made extra efforts to make sure that all groups were offered the vaccine. With the help of the Red Cross, it gave shots to people living in the country illegally and other groups that may have feared showing up for a government-supported vaccination.

"We made the vaccine accessible to all, with no questions asked," said Sazaly Abu Bakar. He is director of the Tropical Infectious Diseases and Research Education Center in Malaysia.

Malaysia started slowly. In the first three months, it gave less than five percent of its 33 million people their first dose.

Then case numbers started rising. Malaysia acted by buying more doses and establishing hundreds of vaccination centers. It set up centers able to provide up to 10,000 shots in one day. Today, 76 percent of Malaysia's population is fully vaccinated.

Many other countries in the Asia-Pacific area also have vaccination rates close to or above 70 percent. They include Australia, China, Japan and Bhutan. In Singapore, 92 percent are fully vaccinated.

Some countries in Asia, however, have continued to struggle. India celebrated giving its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose in October. But the country has over 1.4 billion people. With two doses needed that means only 29 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Indonesia started offering vaccines earlier than many other Asian countries. But it has also struggled. Its difficulties mostly come from expanding its campaign across the thousands of islands that make up the country.

Japan's vaccine program was especially slow in its early months. Many people around the world wondered how it would be able to hold the Summer Olympics, which opened in July. Japan did not start offering vaccines until the middle of February because it required additional testing on Japanese people. The move was widely criticized as unnecessary.

But then it started making progress. Then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga brought in military medical workers to operate big vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka. It eased laws to let dentists, emergency workers and laboratory workers give shots in addition to doctors and nurses. Japan is now about 76 percent fully vaccinated.

Many in Japan express doubt about vaccines in general. But after death numbers rose sharply around the world, many put their doubts aside.

Retiree Kiyoshi Goto is already seeking a booster shot. "I want to get a booster shot as our antibody levels are going down," the 75-year-old said.

And in Phnom Penh, Nuth Nyra was happy. The 5-year-old said she was fearful of COVID-19 before -- but not anymore.

"I felt a little bit of pain when I got the shot," the young girl said. "But I didn't cry."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm John Russell.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

dose – n. the amount of a medicine, drug or vitamin that is taken at one time

option –n. something that can be chosen; a choice or possibility

booster (shot) –n. an extra amount of a substance (called a vaccine) that is injected with a needle into a person or animal to help protect against a disease

region –n. an area or a part of a country or a part of the world

accessible –adj. able to be reached or approached; able to be used

dentist –n. a person whose job is to care for people's teeth

nurse –n. a person who is trained to care for sick or injured people and who usually works in a hospital or doctor's office