On Wednesday, Palestine received 60,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a vaccine sharing initiative led by the World Health Organization.
The recent shipment marked the single largest allocation for COVAX and was meant to increase vaccine rollout in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In addition, Palestine is expected to receive more doses in the next few months as the initiative plans to vaccinate 20 percent of the country’s citizens or around 1 million Palestinians.
COVAX’s primary goal is to promote equitable vaccine distribution by helping developing countries inoculate 20 percent of their entire population.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry confirmed that 38,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are scheduled to be given on Sunday. The government plans to administer the first batch of vaccines among high-risk residents including health workers, seniors, as well as cancer and kidney patients.
Unfortunately, the health ministry announced that they are currently withholding 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine until the government receives confirmation that it is safe for use. The decision to temporarily halt the inoculation for AstraZeneca came after growing concerns of its possible harmful side effects including blood clotting, bleeding, and low platelet count.
A representative of the U.N for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland believed that the vaccine “will be critical tools in our fight against the pandemic and for socioeconomic recovery”. Wennesland also assured of the U.N’s continued support, “The UN, through its good offices, will continue to support the Government of Palestine [sic] in accessing vaccines via the COVAX facility so that it can fully implement its national vaccination campaign.”
The shipment came after the Palestinian government received a major backlash for prioritizing ministers and high-ranking officials for vaccine inoculation. The news is a critical blow given that the country already lags behind Israel in terms of coronavirus vaccine distribution.
Currently, the West Bank which holds over 3 million Palestinian residents listed 146,359 coronavirus cases and 1,667 deaths. Also, the Gaza Strip which has around two million Palestinian citizens reported 57,891 COVID-19 cases and 572 fatalities.