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Palestinian Authority receives 100,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine

Concerns remain over shot’s safety, effectiveness; Ramallah has so far got just 153,000 doses in all

Chinese Ambassador Guo Wei (L) speaks with Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila during the unloading of a shipment of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese government in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on March 29, 2021. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)
Chinese Ambassador Guo Wei (L) speaks with Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila during the unloading of a shipment of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese government in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on March 29, 2021. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Ramallah received 100,000 Sinopharm coronavirus vaccines from the Chinese government on Monday, as the Palestinian Authority struggled to quicken the pace of its immunization campaign.

Including Monday’s shipment, Ramallah has received some 153,000 doses from various sources, far fewer than it needs to vaccinate the nearly 3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank.

The vaccines’ early distribution was also dogged by accusations of nepotism and corruption, which forced the PA to acknowledge that some doses went to government officials and the Palestinian national soccer team rather than healthcare workers.

PA health minister Mai Al-Kaila pledged on Monday that the remaining vaccines would be distributed according to previously declared criteria, which give the elderly, frontline medical staff and at-risk groups first priority.

“A committee of civil society organizations, the private sector, the Independent Commission for Human Rights and the World Health Organization will track the distribution of coronavirus vaccines to the target groups,” al-Kaila said in a statement.

According to the PA health ministry, 44,799 West Bank Palestinians have received just one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Monday night, while another 3,984 have received two doses.

Chinese Ambassador Guo Wei (C) and Palestinian health minister Mai al-Kaila (R) talk to the press during the unloading of a shipment of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines donated by his government, in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on March 29, 2021. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The Palestinians anticipate receiving another shipment of around 400,000 AstraZeneca doses in the coming months through the UN-backed COVAX program, which seeks to provide enough free vaccines to provide for 20% of the Palestinian population.

In addition, Israel has begun vaccinating Palestinians who work in Israel or Israeli settlements. Around 105,000 Palestinian workers were given the first shot of a two-course vaccine in early March at checkpoints and industrial zones across the West Bank.

Palestinian officials have also signed a contract with the British AstraZeneca company for an additional two million doses, but it is unclear when they will arrive.

China has donated or sold millions of doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to countries around the globe. But with little public data available on virus trials, concerns have remained regarding its safety and efficacy.

According to the Chinese government, the Sinopharm vaccine is 79 percent effective against the novel coronavirus.

In the United Arab Emirates — where the vaccine has been widely distributed — health officials recently began administering a third dose to some patients who received the Chinese vaccine but failed to develop antibodies.

Israel has come under criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians, many of whom live under Israeli military rule. Human rights groups charge that international law requires Israel as an occupying power to provide vaccines for Palestinians.

Palestinian health workers at a hospital in the West Bank town of Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel. February 03, 2021 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israel rejects the characterization that it occupies Palestinian territory, deeming the West Bank “disputed.” Israeli officials have also pointed to bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians which designate responsibility for health care to the Palestinian Authority.

Ramallah’s vaccine campaign comes as the West Bank sees high infection rates among Palestinians despite weeks of tightened restrictions.

There are currently 17,509 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank, in a slight dip from recent weeks but still relatively high. A month ago in mid-February, there were around half as many.

Around 1,995 Palestinians have died in the West Bank since the beginning of the pandemic last March, according to PA health ministry figures.

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