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Health chief urges Israel to use vaccine stockpile to inoculate Palestinians

Health Ministry head Chezy Levy says failure to provide shots or help Palestinians with inoculation program threatens the gains made by Israel

Palestinian medical workers receive a vaccine against the coronavirus at a medical center in the West Bank city of Dura on March 21, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)
Palestinian medical workers receive a vaccine against the coronavirus at a medical center in the West Bank city of Dura on March 21, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry on Thursday urged Israel to help vaccinate the Palestinians, saying that failing to do so risked undermining the gains of Israel’s vaccination drive.

“We need to help the Palestinians and quickly assist their vaccination program because it can affect the morbidity here among us,” said Chezy Levy, speaking to the Kan public broadcaster.

“We have to give or sell our stockpiles of vaccines that we have, or help them find vaccines,” he said.

“As soon as a [government] decision is made, we will do so quickly,” he said.

Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Chezy Levy speaks during a press conference about the Coronavirus, in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Flash90)

Levy also said that Israel also needs to demand that Palestinians coming into Israel for medical treatment first present a negative virus test.

While Israel has launched a world-beating vaccination drive, the Palestinian Authority is struggling to vaccinate its population. As of last week, only 3.6% of Palestinians had received at least one dose, and less than 1% were fully vaccinated.

Those figures include the more than 100,000 Palestinian workers that Israel has vaccinated since March, as they come into regular contact with Israelis at their workplaces.

But Israel has refrained from initiating a campaign to vaccinate the general Palestinian population, despite calls from Israeli nonprofits, a petition to the High Court of Justice, and senior health experts’ urgings that it do so.

Israel says that under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians are responsible for immunizations in the West Bank. Gaza, meanwhile, is controlled by the Hamas terror group.

Related: Israel may toss millions of vaccines. Why won’t it give them to the PA instead?

Israel is set to receive some 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it will not use, but has not yet indicated what it will do with them.

The PA has begun 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; around 90 countries have signed up for the program.

The PA has received 271,000 doses for use in the West Bank to date, including 100,000 from China and 58,000 from Russia. Most of the remainder were AstraZeneca doses sent through COVAX.

Israel also donated 5,000 Moderna doses and 200 Pfizer doses for Palestinian medical workers.

The Hamas-run Gaza Strip has received 111,000 doses to date, including 50,000 from COVAX, 60,000 Russian Sputnik V doses from the UAE, and 1,000 Sputnik V doses from the PA.

Palestinian workers wait to be vaccinated by Magen David Adom staff at the Sha’ar Efraim checkpoint in the West Bank, March 4, 2021 (COGAT)

COVAX intends to eventually provide about 400,000 AstraZeneca shots to the Palestinians, according to UNICEF.

The PA declared a state of emergency in areas of the West Bank under its control in March, which is still in effect. Many businesses are shuttered, and Palestinians’ movement is restricted.

The Palestinians suffered their worst COVID-19 wave in March and April, which peaked at almost 3,000 new cases a day. By late April, that figure had dropped to 1,000 new cases a day. Hamas-run Gaza, where figures are unreliable, reported record-high infection rates last month.

Though the security barrier separates most of the West Bank from Israel, and there is a near-hermetic fence between Israel and Gaza, the entire region is seen as one epidemiological unit.

For instance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travelers’ health section lists “Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.” Because Israel and the territories are grouped together, the US State Department last month included Israel among 116 countries on its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory list, citing “unprecedented” risk due to a “very high level of COVID-19.”

Lazar Berman contributed to this report

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