PA says Jerusalem to vaccinate 100k Palestinian workers; Israel: No decision yet

Clashing claims come after Israeli officials travel covertly to Ramallah, meet Palestinian counterparts to discuss cooperation on pandemic

A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

The Palestinian Authority health ministry announced on Friday that Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel, following a covert meeting in Ramallah between senior health officials from both sides.

The two sides also agreed on “technical cooperation” to combat the spread of the virus, the ministry added.

But unnamed Israeli officials told the Ynet news site no decision had yet been made on the 100,000 vaccinations. While Israel tended toward assisting in the matter, any such move would need to be approved by the cabinet.

Earlier, reports in Hebrew media said Israeli officials had been non-committal on the matter but said they would examine it.

The Israeli side was represented by Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, the ministry’s public health services head Sharon Alroy-Preis and the government’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash. The Health Ministry released a statement that confirmed the meeting but made no mention of the Palestinian request.

“Based on the understanding that Israel and the Palestinians live in shared space and the fact that the spread of the coronavirus in the Palestinian Authority may also affect morbidity rates among Israeli residents, ministry officials visited the PA health ministry’s command center and received an assessment regarding the status of the pandemic in the area,” the ministry said, adding that Israeli officials also visited a coronavirus ward in a Palestinian hospital.

Members of Gaza’s Central Elections Commission’s field team register a local woman to the electoral roll, at the main road of Gaza City, February 10, 2021 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The meeting took place as Ynet reported that Israel was readying to receive another large shipment of Moderna vaccines next week, despite already having enough doses to vaccinate its entire population.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that Israel was in talks with pharmaceutical firms to purchase additional doses for use further down the road in light of the growing possibility that the coronavirus will require annual vaccinations.

Most of Israel’s vaccines are from Pfizer, and it only has roughly 100,000 Moderna doses, which have been sitting in storage, Bloomberg reported earlier this week.

A shipment of 20,000 Russian coronavirus vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates is on its way to the Gaza Strip, according to an announcement Thursday by Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled Fatah official who lives in the Emirates.

Around 12,000 doses of coronavirus immunizations have reached Ramallah, which in turn has sent 2,000 coronavirus vaccines to the Gaza Strip.

Over 168,444 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have tested positive for coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic last March, and 1,936 have died, according to the PA health ministry.

Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila receives a shot of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 (WAFA)

The West Bank has seen several waves of the virus, with the last spike in infections peaking in December. At the time, Palestinians were seeing nearly 2,000 new cases today. Sky-high positivity rates among coronavirus tests — occasionally as high as 30% in the West Bank — indicated that the virus was spreading widely undetected.

In statements to Palestinian media last week, the PA’s deputy health minister Yusuf Abu Rish also estimated that 40% of Gazans had been infected with the coronavirus.

Gaza residents live in some of the world’s densest conditions. Nearly 2 million Palestinians live in crowded refugee camps in the 140-square-mile large coastal enclave.

Since the beginning of the pandemic last March, over 53,514 Gazans have tested positive for the coronavirus and 537 have died. At the peak of the virus’s spread in late December, 45% of coronavirus tests came back positive in the Strip.

The Palestinian Authority this week said that the rollout of the public vaccination drive would start later than expected due to a delay in deliveries.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addresses PA cabinet ministers on January 25, 2021 (WAFA)

PA officials had previously said they anticipated a vaccine shipment by mid-February, enabling it to start immunizing the general public in the West Bank and Gaza.

Ramallah has contracted with several parties to provide vaccinations, including Russia, China and the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company. The majority of the vaccines expected to arrive in February, however, are from the UN-backed COVAX mechanism for poor and middle-income countries.

Around 37,000 Pfizer vaccines have been allocated for use by COVAX for the Palestinians; the first doses are intended to go to frontline healthcare workers.

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