COVID-19 Coronavirus Updates: Monday / Tuesday, Nov. 22-23


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When Cambodia rolled out COVID-19 vaccines, lines stretched down entire streets and people left their shoes out to save their places as they sheltered from the sun. But three months into its campaign, just 11% of the population had received at least one dose. In far wealthier Japan, it took two weeks longer to reach that level.

Now both countries boast vaccination rates that rank among the world’s best. They are two of several nations in the Asia-Pacific region that got slow starts to their immunization campaigns but have since zoomed past the United States and many nations in Europe.

The countries with high rates include both richer and poorer ones, some with larger populations and some with smaller. But all have experience with infectious diseases, like SARS, and strong vaccine-procurement programs, many of which knew to spread their risk by ordering from multiple manufacturers.

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

Early in the pandemic, many Asian countries imposed strict lockdown and travel rules that kept the virus largely at bay. As vaccines rolled out in force elsewhere, those low rates sometimes worked against them, giving some people the impression that getting the shot wasn’t urgent.

But when the virulent delta variant began ripping through the region, cases rose, encouraging people to sign up.

Some countries, like Malaysia, made extra efforts to ensure that even the hardest-to-reach groups were offered the vaccine. It enlisted the Red Cross’s help to give shots to people living in the country illegally and other groups that may have feared showing up for a government-sponsored vaccination…

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

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

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