Israel to prioritize vaccinating all Palestinians with its surplus doses

Some 700 Palestinian workers were inoculated on Thursday.

Palestinian workers getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, March 4, 2021.  (photo credit: COGAT)
Palestinian workers getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, March 4, 2021.
(photo credit: COGAT)
Israel plans to prioritize the vaccination of the entire Palestinian population aged over 16, once it has inoculated its own citizens and receives surplus doses, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Israel initially told the Palestinian Authority that it could receive surplus vaccines, but that priority would first be given to its own citizens.
The timetable for the receipt of those surplus vaccines has always been unclear.
Israel has been under fire for not vaccinating Palestinians and has defended itself by explaining that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health care of its own population.
Israel’s Health Ministry has, however, always had plans to inoculate as many Palestinians as possible once it completes its campaign to safeguard its own citizens, a former ministry official explained to the Post. Doing so, the official added, would help prevent cross-border infection, including new mutations.
The former official said that Israel plans to initially use its supply of Moderna messenger RNA vaccines to accomplish this goal.
Health Ministry professionals are almost unanimous in agreement that there is both an epidemiological and humanitarian obligation to vaccinate Palestinians, the former ministry official said.
Israel ordered six million doses of Moderna, enough to inoculate three million people, but it is still unclear when the rest of the doses will arrive. Some 300,000 Moderna vaccines have already been received and another 700,000 doses are expected in April.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved early to ensure Israel would have viable vaccines by purchasing doses from four companies Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Arcturus, of which only Pfizer and Moderna have so far arrived. Arcturus is still in the its Phase II trial stage. The amount of vaccines Israel has purchased will be enough for both Israelis and Palestinians to be vaccinated.
Israel has so far used the Pfizer vaccines to inoculate its population and to date, more than 4.8 million Israelis have received at least one dose.
The Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank numbers some 4.8 million people, of which around 36% are aged under 14, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book. Minors under 16 are not currently eligible for vaccination. Only a small fraction of Palestinians have been vaccinated to date.
Israel has already agreed to supply the Palestinians with 5,000 Moderna vaccines to inoculate its medical workers and some 2,000 have already been delivered. It has committed, starting Sunday, to vaccinate around 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and in West Bank settlements.
But according to Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of Sheba Medical Center’s Travel & Tropical Medicine department, “The overall number of Palestinian workers in Israel is marginal compared to the number of unvaccinated Israelis. As long as we are not aiming for the elimination of COVID, as long as we are not aiming to have the virus completely disappear, vaccinating the Palestinian workers is not a critical step.”
He said that “first, we need high coverage in Israel.”
However, Leshem added that from a humanitarian perspective, “if we have enough doses, we should certainly assist our closest neighbors, the same as we have vaccinated other [foreign] workers that have come to work in Israel.”
If Israel has extra vaccines, it would be “inhumane” not to give them to the Palestinians, Leshem added.
He said that in the long-run, vaccinating Palestinians would help ensure public health because of the high-level of interaction between the two populations.
“The higher the vaccination rate among them, the better off we are,” he said.
World Health Organization Regional Director Rick Brennan spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the importance of global and regional vaccination, noting that, “No one is safe until everyone is safe, this is a public health fact. It makes good public health sense, if all of your neighborhood and the neighborhood next door is not vaccinated, it can come back to you in a number of different ways.”
The coronavirus has highlighted global inequity, he said, because wealthy nations were able to ensure vaccination for their citizens early, while low- to middle-income governments, have not.
“The Palestinians, because they have not had the resources, have been left behind like other low- and middle-income countries, because there is a scramble by the wealthy countries to snap up the available supplies,” Brennan said.
“The bottom line is that if you have the financing, you have a better chance of getting the vaccines sooner than if you do not,” Brennan said. This is particularly true, he added, in a situation where the global supply of vaccines cannot keep up global demand.
Unlike Israel, the Palestinian Authority is still struggling to finalize purchase deals, and money donated for that effort has largely not arrived, including a 20-million-euro pledge by the European Union. The Palestinian Authority has signed contracts for 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V and two million from AstraZeneca.
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last weekend that the PA has purchased vaccines worth $10 million from a number of sources, but he did not name the companies.
Shtayyeh said that the first batch was supposed to arrive in mid-February, but due to global competition and reasons related to the producers, the vaccines were to arrive this week. Among the purchases expected was a batch of 25,000 doses from AstraZeneca in India.
A PA Ministry of Health official said that the Palestinians have approached several countries to get them to purchase vaccines on behalf of the PA. He said the appeal was made to a number of EU countries.
 The delay was due to global competition, the official said. “We were told by some of the companies that we need to wait two or three months,” he added. “The World Health Organization is helping us with our efforts to obtain vaccines.”
 Palestinian civil society organizations say that the PA government has failed to make public the details of the process of purchasing the vaccines, the exporting companies, the detailed budgets and specific delivery dates. They also said that the PA government keeps providing conflicting information and statements about the vaccines.
The most transparent process with respect to Palestinian vaccinations, has been those doses that are donated.
Separate from the Israeli donations, Palestinians have received 10,000 doses Sputnik V from Russia and 20,000 of the same make from the United Arab Emirates. It is also due to receive 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China.
But the largest donation is from the United Nations and World Health Organization’s affiliate global vaccination program called Gavi,  which plans to vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian population over the next year.
Through Gavi’s COVAX AMC facility, the Palestinians will receive 37,440 doses of Pfizer this month as well as 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca.
The allocation of AstraZeneca is part of a larger donation through Gavi of 240,000-405,000 doses that will arrive in staggered batches throughout the year.