Abbas receives first vaccine dose as Palestinian inoculation drive set to begin

Vaccination campaign for Palestinian public begins Sunday with 61,440 shots donated through international COVAX program

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas receives his first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, March 20, 2021. (Screenshot/WAFA)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas receives his first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, March 20, 2021. (Screenshot/WAFA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received at least dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the official PA WAFA news agency confirmed on Saturday.

It is not clear what vaccine Abbas received, nor when he received it. Previous statements by the PA Health Ministry indicated that many senior Palestinian officials have already been vaccinated after shipments of the Moderna and Russian Sputnik V vaccines arrived in Ramallah last month.

Around 61,440 vaccine doses earmarked for the PA reached Ramallah on Wednesday after arriving in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport the same day. The PA received 37,440 Pfizer doses and 24,000 from AstraZeneca; it was not clear which vaccine Abbas received.

While the PA’s official Wafa news agency said Abbas had received his first dose on Saturday, previous statements by the PA Health Ministry had indicated many senior Palestinian officials had already been vaccinated after shipments of the Moderna and Russian Sputnik V vaccines arrived in Ramallah last month.

The PA is receiving vaccines through COVAX, a global vaccine program for poor and middle-income countries backed by the World Health Organization. The program aims to provide enough free doses to immunize up to 20 percent of a participating country’s population and around 90 countries have signed up for the program.

الرئيس يتلقى اللقاح المضاد لفيروس "كورونا"

الرئيس محمود عباس يتلقى اللقاح المضاد لفيروس "كورونا" ويدعو للالتزام بتعليمات وزارة الصحة في أخذ اللقاح وإجراءات السلامة العامة

Posted by ‎وكالة وفا – WAFA News Agency‎ on Saturday, March 20, 2021

Some 20,000 doses from the Wednesday shipment were sent to Gaza later the same day, an Israeli Defense Ministry official said.

The PA said the vaccination drive would begin on Sunday, primarily for those aged over 75, cancer patients and medical personnel.

COVAX intends to eventually provide about 400,000 AstraZeneca shots to the Palestinians, according to UNICEF. The vaccine has become controversial in recent days following reports of side effects; in a few rare cases, some of those vaccinated developed blood clots. Some European countries halted its use last week, but resumed administering the shots on Friday after health experts deemed it safe.

Health officials in Gaza have also received around 60,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines funded by the United Arab Emirates and around 2,000 Sputnik doses from the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians from the Ministry of Health receive a shipment of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine doses sent by the United Arab Emirates, after the Egyptian authorities allowed entry to Gaza through the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 21, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel has also begun vaccinating Palestinians who work in Israel, sending medical teams to operate at checkpoints and industrial zones in the West Bank and border areas. According to the Israeli military body that handles Palestinian civil affairs, over 90,000 Palestinian workers had received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday.

The Palestinian Authority has independently contracted with several providers — including AstraZeneca, Russia, and China — to acquire doses, but very few have arrived.

Palestinian Authority officials have repeatedly set public deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival, only to see them fall through. Late January, early February, mid-February, and early March were all named as potential arrival dates for major vaccine shipments, but none came to fruition.

Before Wednesday’s shipment, the PA had only received about 12,000 vaccines: 2,000 Moderna vaccines from Israel and 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Around 2,000 of those were sent to Gaza, with another 200 sent to Jordan, according to the PA Health Ministry.

Jerusalem district police medical team inject doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into Palestinian laborers holding a work permit and working in Israel at a temporary medical facility at the checkpoint near Jerusalem on March 9, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The remaining 9,800 vaccines were allocated to the West Bank, the Health Ministry said. But accusations of nepotism and corruption have dogged their distribution, with a substantial number of shots reportedly going to those close to government officials rather than to healthcare workers.

In a statement, Ramallah acknowledged that some doses went to government officials, some young students, and the Palestinian national soccer team. But officials maintained that 90% of the vaccines were given to front-line healthcare workers.

In Gaza, health authorities have confirmed more than 57,000 infections, including more than 568 dead, since the start of the pandemic.

In the West Bank, around 156,000 infections have been recorded, including at least 1,745 deaths.

AFP contributed to this report.

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