Palestinians expected to receive first shipment of Russian Sputnik V vaccine

PA requests Israeli permission to bring in 5,000 doses on Tuesday to vaccinate hospital workers; bulk of shots for Palestinian population expected over next few months

A medical worker moves a box of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine out from a refrigerator prior to administering a vaccination in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020.  (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
A medical worker moves a box of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine out from a refrigerator prior to administering a vaccination in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The Palestinian Authority will receive the first 5,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine on Tuesday, intended to inoculate hospital and health workers, Hebrew media reports said.

The PA had requested and received permission from Israel for Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh to bring the vaccines in via the Allenby Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.

Al-Sheikh is returning from Moscow, where he was received the 5,000 doses as a personal donation from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Channel 13 reported.

In December, Palestinian officials announced that they had signed a deal with Russia for 4 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

That was after Russia began a large-scale public vaccination drive initially to medical workers, teachers, and high-risk groups. Russian authorities boasted that Sputnik V was the world’s “first registered COVID-19 vaccine” after the government gave it regulatory approval in early August.

A nurse prepares a dose of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Moscow, December 30, 2020. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP)

The move drew criticism from international experts, who pointed out that the vaccine had only been tested on several dozen people at the time.

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

The news comes as Israel, which has instituted the world’s most successful vaccination campaign so far, has come under pressure for not also including the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, who run their own health care system in areas they administer, have yet to publicly ask Israel for coronavirus vaccinations.

Officials in the PA have split the difference, saying both that Ramallah is in charge of providing immunizations to its citizens and claiming that Israel has obligations to the Palestinians under international law.

Palestinians sit as Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh opens a hospital for COVID-19 in the West Bank city of Nablus, on January 16, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/ Flash90)

The issue of Israel’s legal responsibility to the Palestinians in a pandemic is highly contentious and hotly debated by international law experts. The 1995 Oslo II Accord delegates responsibility for health care to the Palestinian Authority. But the same treaty also obligates the two sides to cooperate in fighting epidemics.

Israeli health officials have previously said they would be willing to consider immunizing Palestinians once all Israelis have received the coronavirus vaccine.

“Israeli citizens come first. Only after we have finished vaccinating all residents of the country can we consider any other request, including ones from the PA,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Channel 12 last week.

The Palestinians have so far announced three sources of immunizations that they intend to deploy in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the weekend, health officials announced a deal for 2 million doses with the British AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company.

The UN-backed COVAX program will supply the rest.

Meanwhile, last week Israel Israel acknowledged that it had given the PA 100 vaccine doses.

The government’s acknowledgement followed a High Court petition filed by the family of Hadar Goldin, a soldier whose body is being held in Gaza by the Hamas terror group. Goldin’s family seeks to condition the entry of aid into Gaza — including coronavirus vaccines — on the return of their son’s body.

In response to the reports, Palestinian officials denied having received any doses from Israel, both in generic statements by government institutions and by individual officials reached by The Times of Israel.

But according to the state attorney, Palestinian Authority officials requested coronavirus vaccines from the Israeli Health Ministry and from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, in early January.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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