Palestinian Authority receives another 150,000 coronavirus vaccine doses

Most Palestinians remain unvaccinated, despite months of attempts to bring in shots; though currently seeing low rates of infection, health officials fear school year surge

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 Palestinian Authority has received another 150,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer, PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a statement on Thursday, as most Palestinians remain unvaccinated.

Around 100,000 of the doses have been allocated to the Gaza Strip, Hamas health official Majdi Daher confirmed in a phone call.

The vaccines were part of a contract with Pfizer to bring four million doses to Ramallah. So far, around 1 million have arrived, al-Kaila said.

Well over a year into the pandemic, the majority of Palestinians remain unvaccinated. According to official figures, around 6 percent of Gazans and 18% of West Bank Palestinians have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Recorded coronavirus infections remain low in the West Bank and Gaza, with only 2,723 active cases as of Thursday evening. At the virus’s peak in mid-April, the Palestinian areas saw over 30,000 active infections at a single time.

But health officials warn that with schools and universities expected to open next week, the virus could again surge to the fore.

“We worry that a new wave will emerge in the coming weeks as schools reopen. That could cause the rise in cases that we fear,” Daher said.

In the Gaza Strip, only around 1,000 tests are being conducted per day for the two million Palestinians who live in the enclave. On Thursday, around 27% of tests conducted in Gaza came back positive, indicating that there are likely many other cases spreading undetected.

According to al-Kaila, some two million vaccines have been distributed between the West Bank and Gaza at this point. While Israel began vaccinating its citizens last December, the Palestinians have seen months of delays and partial shipments.

Palestinians in the West Bank receive a shot of the coronavirus vaccine on Sunday March 21, 2021 (WAFA)

The vaccines that have arrived came through an eclectic mix of sources. In the West Bank, Israeli authorities vaccinated around 105,000 Palestinians who work inside Israel. Hundreds of thousands of doses also arrived through the COVAX mechanism, a United Nations-backed scheme to provide coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.

Russia and China also sent small shipments of their own national shots, the Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines, to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Palestinians in Gaza have received shots through the COVAX mechanism, as well as some of the donations sent to the PA. They also received around 60,000 Sputnik V shots from the United Arab Emirates, mediated by exiled Palestinian politician Mohammad Dahlan.

Ramallah has been rocked by repeated scandals centered around the coronavirus vaccine. Before the shot was made widely available in the West Bank, senior officials, their children, and even the Palestinian national soccer team allegedly got it first.

Palestinian health workers at a hospital in the West Bank town of Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) earlier today, after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel. February 3, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The PA was also widely criticized by Palestinians for a deal with Israel in June which saw Jerusalem loan millions of soon-to-expire Pfizer doses to Ramallah. In exchange, Israel would get fresh doses of the vaccine that the PA had already purchased, but which were set to arrive later.

The vaccines arrived in Ramallah to great fanfare in mid-June. But after widespread public backlash, the PA withdrew from the deal, saying it had not been informed that the vaccines did not meet its safety requirements.

Israel insisted the doses were fine and noted that it was itself still using them for its own citizens. It eventually struck a deal with South Korea to send some of its expiring doses there.

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