Thousands of Palestinian health workers, the elderly, and patients with cancer or kidney disease were set to get Covid-19 vaccines from Sunday as the health ministry ramped up its inoculation campaign.
The rollout came days after some 60,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca doses arrived in the Israeli-occupied West Bank via the Covax scheme of the World Health Organisation and the United Nation’s children agency (UNICEF).
Cases of Covid-19 have spiked in the enclave in recent weeks, sparking a flood of patients hospital officials say they are struggling to treat.
“The vaccination will help to prevent a breakdown of the health system,” said Tor Wennesland, the UN envoy for the Middle East peace process. “It’s a very important first step forward and it will help.”
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip have had limited access to vaccines compared to Israelis, roughly half of whom have received the recommended two shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
Israel has resisted calls from rights groups and the UN to innoculate all Palestinians, saying the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is responsible for obtaining vaccines.
The Israeli army says it has vaccinated some 100,000 Palestinian workers who have permits to enter Israel and West Bank Jewish settlements.
About 60,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine have reached Gaza from the United Arab Emirates.
Those deliveries were orchestrated by prominent Palestinian political figure Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of president Mahmud Abbas exiled in Abu Dhabi.
The Palestinian Authority is waiting for another 100,000 doses from China.
UNICEF says it plans to deliver enough vaccine to vaccinate an additional one million people, roughly 20 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
– Money not ‘the problem’ –
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said his office was allocating an additional $12 million to procure vaccines.
“The problem is not the money but the availability of vaccines,” he said.
Abbas on Saturday published a photograph of himself getting vaccinated. It was not clear when the picture was taken.
The Palestinian health ministry said in early March that top Palestine Liberation Organisation officials over the age of 65 had been given shots. Abbas is 85.
As of Sunday, 2,427 people had died of Covid-19 in the West Bank and Hamas Islamist-controlled Gaza Strip.
Another 223,944 were reported infected cross the two Palestinian territories since the pandemic began.
In Israel, more than 6,085 people have died of Covid-19 out of 827,428 confirmed cases but the infection rate has plummeted as vaccination numbers have climbed.
The Palestinian vaccine campaign comes ahead of the first Palestinian election in 15 years. Legislative elections are scheduled for May 22 and a presidential vote for the end of July.