Around 10,000 Russian-made coronavirus vaccines arrived in Ben Gurion airport Thursday and were delivered to the Palestinian Authority.
The shots — enough to inoculate 5,000 people — are a donation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. They are set to be given first to frontline healthcare workers and other priority groups, Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said.
“The first priority is for medical staff and the elderly… in accordance with World Health Organization requirements,” Kaila told Voice of Palestine Radio on Thursday morning.
The vaccination campaign is currently being conducted in Hugo Chavez Hospital, a Ramallah healthcare center named for the deceased pro-Palestinian Venezuelan dictator.
While Israel has raced ahead in providing vaccines to its citizens — around 36 percent of Israelis had received at least one shot of the two-dose coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday — the Palestinians have only just begun vaccinating healthcare workers.
Al-Kaila estimated that the Palestinian Authority has so far signed on the dotted line for the purchase of about one million vaccine doses. There are currently around four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, according to Palestinian Authority statistics.
The stark contrast between the speed of the Israeli rollout and the Palestinian immunization campaign has sparked criticism of Israel and calls to provide vaccines to the Palestinians. Israeli officials have insisted that inoculating Palestinians is the PA’s duty according to bilateral agreements between the two sides.
Ramallah expects to begin its main vaccination campaign in mid-February with the arrival of 50,000 doses of vaccines from various sources, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.
The PA has contracted with four other parties — Moderna, AstraZeneca, China and Russia — to bring an amalgam of immunizations.
Most of the vaccines set to arrive in February, however, come from a World Health Organization program known as COVAX, which aims to increase access to coronavirus vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. The program will vaccinate up to 20 percent of the Palestinian population for free.
COVAX announced on Monday that around 37,440 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were given the okay for “potential distribution from mid-February” to the Palestinians, pending approvals and agreements with manufacturers. The shots are set to be given to frontline health care workers.
Al-Kaila estimated on Thursday that the COVAX vaccines would arrive February 17-24.
Another set of vaccines — between 240,000 and 405,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — were expected to arrive by late February, al-Kaila said.