The claim: Cambodia did not have a COVID-19 outbreak until vaccines arrived
Vaccine opponents are looking to Cambodia to falsely assert that vaccines may actually make COVID-19 more dangerous.
"Cambodia is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world: 81.3% of its population has received at least one dose of the vaccine," reads an Oct. 6 Facebook post. "And there are now more COVID-19 'cases' in Cambodia than ever before. According to official government data, before the advent of vaccines against Covid, there were no problems with morbidity in the country."
The post hasn't accumulated many shares, but similar claims have circulated on Instagram, messaging apps like Telegram and blogs like Before It's News. Some of the posts compare a graph of Cambodia’s daily COVID-19 case count with one of the vaccination rate.
It’s true that Cambodia didn't experience more than 400 cases or a COVID death until early 2021, roughly when the vaccine arrived. But there is no correlation between increased vaccination and increased cases, experts say.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.
Cambodian outbreak was unrelated to its vaccine
Since the start of the global pandemic, Cambodia has fared remarkably well compared to other countries. Reuters' world COVID-19 tracker shows Cambodia didn’t experience a major outbreak until late February, which ultimately led to a spike that officials are still working to quell. The country’s first COVID-19-related death didn’t occur until March 11.
In May 2020, experts told Voice of America that Cambodia’s comparably positive pandemic outcomes were likely caused by a combination of lucky factors. Despite the government’s poor public health policy at the beginning of the pandemic, experts said Cambodia’s COVID-19 counts benefited from factors including:
Systematic case undercounting
Effective safety measures taken by neighboring countries
Cultural practices like wearing masks and not shaking hands
Cambodia’s World Health Organization representative, Dr. Ailan Li, attributed the country’s low counts to its relatively small and young population.
Vaccines protect against COVID-19 – they don’t cause it
Cambodia has administered vaccines that are proven to decrease serious COVID-19 infections to most of its population.
Cambodia began its vaccination campaign in early February, starting with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three sons. In the months since, the country continued to vaccinate its population. According to Reuters, 81% of Cambodians had received at least one vaccine dose as of Oct. 5.
On Oct. 2, the Cambodian Health Ministry recorded the lowest daily figure of new COVID-19 cases since mid-April. Officials attributed the case decline to the nation's increasing vaccination rate.
Our rating: Missing context
Based on our research, we rate the claim that Cambodia did not have a COVID-19 outbreak until vaccines arrived MISSING CONTEXT, because it is misleading without additional information. The country did experience its largest outbreak at roughly the same time its vaccination campaign began, but vaccines did not cause the outbreak. Approved COVID-19 vaccines have been clinically proven to decrease recipients’ risk of contracting COVID-19, experiencing serious symptoms and death. Cambodian health officials have attributed recent case count improvements to the country’s high vaccination rate.
Our fact-check sources:
Brookings Institute, May 19, COVID-19 comes to Cambodia
Reuters, accessed Oct. 5, COVID-19 Tracker, Cambodia
Global News, March 11, Cambodia sees its first death from COVID-19 a year into pandemic
ABC News, Dec. 3, 2020, Cambodia has zero COVID-19 deaths and has just declared its first case of community transmission
Voice of America, July 3, 2020, Luck, Culture Helped Cambodia Contain Coronavirus
World Health Organization, Sept. 2, The Sinovac-CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine: What you need to know
World Health Organization, Sept. 2, The Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine: What you need to know
World Health Organization, Sept. 2, The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine: what you need to know
ABC News, Feb. 10, Cambodia begins vaccination campaign against COVID-19
Reuters, accessed Oct. 5, COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker
XinhuaNet, Oct. 2, Cambodia's COVID-19 cases dip as over 83 pct of population vaccinated
Contributing: Daniel Funke
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Vaccinations did not cause a COVID-19 spike in Cambodia