The Palestinian Authority has confirmed that it diverted some Covid-19 vaccine doses intended for front-line medical workers to VIPs instead, including the national football team and government ministers. The PA has said repeatedly that its first vaccines would go to medical workers and elderly patients, who are at the greatest risk of severe illness or death.
However, a PA health ministry statement yesterday said that 10 per cent of the 12,000 doses it received were given to the footballers, government ministers, presidential guards, and members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Executive Committee. Moreover, another 200 doses were sent to the Royal Court in Amman, following a request from Jordan.
The health ministry said the ministers and security officials who received vaccines are "in direct contact with the president and the prime minister." Others who received the vaccination were election officials. The footballers need to have vaccination certificates because they are travelling abroad "to represent Palestine in a match".
The ministry points out that 90 per cent of the doses went to health workers treating coronavirus patients in intensive care units and emergency departments, as well as health ministry staff.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila added that students who require vaccination certificates to study abroad were also given the jab. However, she acknowledged that the authorities had erred by giving the vaccine to at least two journalists in Bethlehem, but said that they had acted contrary to regulations and were admonished for it.
The ministry statement followed criticism from several Palestinian human rights and civil society groups, which urged an investigation into the vaccination programme, claiming that it is not transparent. "The incoming information and testimonies point to ongoing cases where vaccines are obtained by several parties, in disregard of the principle of priority in distribution," the groups said in a joint statement on Monday.
According to Wafa news agency, the West Bank, where 3.1 million Palestinians live, has suffered a significant rise in the number of new infections. "We have focused from the beginning on health workers, but there are around 100,000 of them," Al-Kaila told reporters yesterday. "It's not enough."
The World Bank said last week that the occupied Palestinian territories have one of the lowest testing rates in the Middle East and North Africa. The rate of positive tests in the West Bank is over 21 per cent and in the Gaza Strip, it is 29 per cent, indicating an uncontrolled spread of the virus.
The PA expects to receive an initial COVAX shipment within weeks. It says that it has supply deals with Russia and drugmaker AstraZeneca, although doses have been slow to reach the occupied territories.