Palestinian shipment of Russian Sputnik vaccine delayed

PA ambassador to Russia says he expects ‘technical issue’ holding up delivery of shots to be resolved soon, and the first delivery to arrive by mid-February

A vial with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in a medical room, in Moscow, Russia, December 5, 2020 (Pavel Golovkin/AP)
A vial with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in a medical room, in Moscow, Russia, December 5, 2020 (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

A shipment of 5,000 Russian vaccines sent to the Palestinian Authority has been delayed, the Palestinian Authority informed Israel on Tuesday.

The doses had been expected to arrive on Tuesday but were delayed due to “technical issues,” according to an Israeli security official.

In December, Palestinian officials announced that they had signed a deal with Russia for 4 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. While some health officials said they expected the vaccines to arrive by the end of 2020, a few projected deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival have fallen through.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh traveled to Moscow over the weekend to sign the agreement with the Russian government securing the immunizations. Al-Sheikh met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among other officials.

Russian authorities touted Sputnik V as the world’s “first registered COVID-19 vaccine” after the government approved it in early August. But the vaccine is highly controversial, with many public health experts arguing that it has not undergone proper safety trials.

The Palestinian Authority ambassador to Russia, Abdel Hafiz Nofal, told the Ma’an News Agency that a technical failure relating to the transportation of the vaccines had led to the delay, which he estimated would be resolved by Friday.

“Palestine has purchased 100,000 more doses. Hussein al-Sheikh signed the necessary papers for the agreement, but Russia will not be able to provide them immediately,” Nofal said.

PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila approved the Sputnik V vaccine for use in the West Bank and Gaza last week. According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the rest of the Russian vaccines will arrive in the West Bank next month.

Nofal estimated that the delivery of the first major shipment would take place in the next two weeks: “before mid-February.”

The Palestinians have so far announced three sources of immunizations that they intend to deploy in the West Bank and Gaza: the Russian vaccine, 2 million expected doses from the British AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company, and an additional shipment from a United Nations-backed vaccine mechanism for poor countries known as COVAX.

But Ramallah has yet to begin any kind of widespread inoculation campaign, even as Israel has sprinted ahead in vaccinating its population.

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