Palestinians say they’ll start vaccine rollout by mid-February

Israel delivers 2,000 doses to Palestinians, who say they expect the arrival of 50,000 more from various sources in the coming weeks

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh opens a hospital for covid-19 in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 16, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh opens a hospital for covid-19 in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 16, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Palestinians expect to begin their coronavirus vaccine rollout in mid-February with the arrival of 50,000 doses, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told cabinet ministers in Ramallah on Monday.

“We expect the arrival of 50,000 coronavirus [vaccine] doses, from several sources, by mid-February,” Shtayyeh said.

While Israel has raced ahead in providing vaccines to its citizens — around 32 percent of Israelis had received at least one jab of a coronavirus vaccine as of Sunday — the Palestinians have yet to begin their inoculation campaign, even among frontline healthcare workers.

The majority of the vaccines Shtayyeh expects to arrive are through COVAX, an international vaccine mechanism backed by the World Health Organization. The vaccines still need to pass successive approvals, however, meaning that delays could still ensue.

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

COVAX, which aims to increase access to coronavirus vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, will vaccinate up to 20 percent of the Palestinian population for free. The international body announced on Monday that between 240,000 and 405,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were expected to arrive by late February, pending approvals by manufacturers and the WHO.

Another 37,440 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were given the okay for “potential distribution from mid-February,” pending approvals and agreements with manufacturers. The shots are set to be given to frontline health care workers.

Some of those doses are expected to reach the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Hamas terror group. Health officials in the coastal enclave began preparing their vaccination campaign by launching an app on which Gaza residents could register for immunization appointments.

“The vaccine is expected to arrive in the Gaza Strip in the immediate future. The expected quantity is around 15,000 doses, and health personnel, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses will be prioritized,” Hamas health official Majdi Dahir said in a statement.

Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in December that Ramallah lacked the cold-storage capacity required for the Pfizer vaccines, which must stay frozen at an icy -70°C.

But a Palestinian health official who spoke to The Times of Israel on Monday said the PA has since purchased enough freezers to properly store as many doses of the vaccine as they expect to receive.

Israel has taken criticism for not providing coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinians, even as it has surged ahead in vaccinating Israeli citizens.

Photos of a transfer of vaccines from Israeli authorities to Palestinians at Beitunia checkpoint south of Ramallah on February 1, 2021 (courtesy)

Ramallah has contracted with four other parties — Moderna, AstraZeneca, China and Russia — to bring an amalgam of immunizations. Most of the doses are now expected to arrive in mid-March, although several deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival have already fallen through.

The Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, charge the Palestinian Authority with providing immunizations to their own people. Human rights groups dispute this, however, arguing that Israel is an occupying power and must provide for Palestinians who live under Israeli military rule.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that it would send 5,000 vaccine doses to the PA to inoculate medical workers.

In an announcement on Monday, the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories — Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians — said that it had transferred 2,000 coronavirus vaccines for Palestinian health care workers through the Beitunia checkpoint south of Ramallah.

In their statement, COGAT said that another 3,000 doses would be transferred “in the future.”

A senior Palestinian health official at first denied any knowledge of the matter to The Times of Israel.

But the Health Ministry later acknowledged receiving 2,000 Moderna vaccines — without mentioning that Israel transferred them.

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