On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority received its first batch of vaccines from the global COVAX sharing initiative, to increase vaccinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which are far behind Israel’s campaign.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health said 38,000 doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine would be used for vaccination from Sunday, while 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be stored “until a scientific decision is made by the World Health Organization”.
The WHO, one of the leaders of the COVAX program, has said that its advisory panel reviewed reports from several countries on isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts after administering the AstraZeneca shots.
But the organization appealed to nations on Monday not to pause vaccination campaigns over security fears.
The vaccines sent to Tel Aviv were the first sent by the WHO to the Palestinians under the COVAX unit it set up with the GAVI Vaccine Alliance to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccinations globally.
Additional COVAX shipments are expected in a few months.
A truck carried the first shipment from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. About a third of the doses have been allocated to Gaza.
An official at the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process said the vaccines “will be critical tools in our fight against the pandemic and for socio-economic recovery”.
The Palestinian Authority hopes to cover about 20% of the Palestinian population through the COVAX initiative. It said that the initial doses from COVAX would be given to health workers, cancer and kidney patients and people over 75 years of age.
The West Bank, home to 3.1 million Palestinians, has reported 146,359 coronavirus cases with 1,667 deaths. Gaza, with a population of two million, has registered more than 57,891 cases with 572 deaths.
Health officials in Gaza said about 8,500 people had received the first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. In the West Bank, about 5,000 have had their first shot.
About 90,000 of the 120,000 Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits have been vaccinated by Israel, which has been a world leader in its vaccination.