COVID-19 Vaccine Line-Jumping Controversies Continue in MENA Region

Fallout over politicians jumping the queue ahead of elderly, health care staff in Lebanon, Tunisia and the Palestinian territories.

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)
Good, old-fashioned line jumping has caused furor in the Palestinian territories, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
Palestinian officials conceded on Tuesday that some of the 6,000 vaccines against the coronavirus it has obtained went to Palestinian Authority officials and to members of the national soccer team, among other lower risk groups, ahead of the aged and medical professionals.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said it would begin inoculating the approximately 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and the West Bank. They are scheduled to begin on Sunday, according to reports.
In Lebanon, the saga continues over 11 legislators who received the vaccination, even though they did not meet the criteria of being over age 75 that the rest of the county must follow.
Eighty-year-old Lebanese citizen Joseph al-Hajj turned to the courts to obtain a vaccine, arguing he had precedence over the younger legislators. Lebanese Judge Carla Chawah ruled in his favor, Reuters reported Wednesday, directing the Ministry of Health to vaccinate him within two days or pay a $6,500 financial penalty for each day he is not vaccinated.
Chawah said the ministry’s decision to vaccinate lawmakers had violated al-Hajj’s right to health and life because he had priority in the national plan due to his age, unlike some of the lawmakers.
Over in Tunisia, the North African Post reported on Tuesday that, with the exception of Tunisian President Kais Saied, most of the government, including Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, were unaware that the United Arab Emirates had sent 1,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in January. The Post noted that the president of the Administrative Reforms and Good Governance Commission in the Tunisian parliament, Badreddine Gamoudi, said earlier this week that the vaccine was given to senior government leaders and other legislators.
Tunis has yet to start a vaccine campaign for the public, although it is scheduled to begin this month.
Elsewhere in the region, Sudan became the first MENA country to obtain the vaccine via COVAX, with some 800,000 doses delivered on Wednesday. COVAX, the global initiative aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries, was created last year and is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization); the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with organizations such as UNICEF.
Over in the Gulf, Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz reported on Monday that only vaccinated pilgrims will be allowed to participate in the Hajj, which begins the evening of July 17.
Pope Francis is scheduled to make his first international trip on March 5, to Iraq. The four-day trip is the first-ever papal visit to the Arab world. While Baghdad started the country’s vaccination campaign earlier in the week, it recorded some 5,173 new cases on Wednesday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began.
Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 12:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.
Steven Ganot contributed to this report.