Gaza opens limited corona vaccination program ahead of int'l parley

Funding has been an issue for the Palestinian Authority in general and specifically with respect to the vaccines, in both the West Bank and Gaza.

PALESTINIAN HEALTH WORKERS at a hospital in Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus disease, after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel earlier this month. (photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)
PALESTINIAN HEALTH WORKERS at a hospital in Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus disease, after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel earlier this month.
(photo credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)
Palestinians in Gaza began a limited COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday after receiving doses donated by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, ahead of a virtual international donor meeting Tuesday to discuss funding for a wider initiative.
Officials in the coastal enclave, run by the Islamist group Hamas and home to an estimated two million people, are administering the first of their 22,000 Russia Sputnik V doses to health workers. Patients with chronic diseases and those over 60 years old will follow.
Gaza received its first vaccine shipment last week after Israel approved a transfer of 2,000 doses that Russia had donated to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which entered Gaza though its Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.
It has separately received 20,000 Russian doses from the UAE, through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Palestinian health officials have said they need 2.6 million doses to inoculate all people over 16, assuming a two-dose regimen. There are 5.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza by Palestinian estimates.
Funding has been an issue for the Palestinian Authority in general and specifically regarding the vaccines, in both the West Bank and Gaza.
A World Bank report issued Monday warned that the Palestinians’ COVID-19 vaccination plan faces a $30 million funding shortfall, even after factoring in support from a global vaccine scheme for poorer economies.
It’s one of a number of reports that will be presented to a virtual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which typically meets twice a year: once in Brussels in the spring and again in New York in the fall on the sidelines of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly.
The 15-member body, which includes the United States, is one of the few venues where Israeli and Palestinian officials meet and jointly participate in larger international forum.
Tuesday’s meeting is the first gathering of the AHLC since US President Joe Biden took office last month. The Trump administration had downgraded its participation in the meetings.
Norwegian Foreign Minister and meeting chairman Ine Eriksen Søreide said Friday in advance of the meeting that “the pandemic has further exacerbated the critical humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“At the meeting, we will continue to call for close cooperation between the parties to combat the pandemic, which is necessary if they are to succeed,” she said. “It is also important to advance economic cooperation. This is essential to strengthen the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority.”
ISRAEL, CREDITED with one of the most efficient vaccination roll-out programs in the world, has been under international pressure to provide vaccines for the Palestinians. It should consider donating surplus doses to help accelerate a vaccine campaign in the West Bank and Gaza, the World Bank said.
“In order to ensure there is an effective vaccination campaign, Palestinian and Israeli authorities should coordinate the financing, purchase and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” it added.
Israel has explained that under the terms of the Oslo Agreement, the PA is responsible for the health care of Palestinians in the West Bank. The Jewish state has emphasized, however, that it is committed to helping facilitate the movement of vaccines that the PA has purchased.
But its policy in Gaza differs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under domestic public pressure not to allow vaccines into Gaza until Hamas releases the remains of two soldiers and frees two Israeli citizens.
Israel plans to weigh each request by the PA to transfer vaccines into Gaza on a case-by-case basis. To date it has allowed in only 2,000 doses, enough for just 1,000 people.
At the opening session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Israel has a responsibility to provide vaccines, and in particular called for it to allow the vaccines to enter Gaza.
“Should Israel continue with this policy, it is the result of the lack of accountability of the international scene,” Malki said.
The Palestinian Authority plans to cover 20% of Palestinians through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program. PA officials hope to procure additional vaccines to achieve 60% coverage.
Cost estimates suggest that “a total of about $55 million would be needed to cover 60% of the population, of which there is an existing gap of $30 million,” the World Bank said, calling for additional donor help.
While the PA expects to receive an initial COVAX shipment within weeks, the program is at risk of failing, mainly due to a lack of funds. The authority says it has supply deals with Russia and drug-maker AstraZeneca, but doses have been delayed.
The PA health ministry said on Friday that Israel had agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who regularly cross into Israel for work.
A decision on vaccinating the Palestinian workers should be made soon, Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash told reporters on Sunday.
“From a medical perspective, we think vaccinating the Palestinian workers is very much the correct thing to do.”