While receiving plaudits for the speed of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Israel is excluding Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza from its inoculation plans, according to news reports.
Transporting the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine doses around the country quickly has resulted in over 800,000 people, or almost 10 percent of the population receiving jabs. Israel’s vaccination campaign includes Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.7 million Palestinians, The Guardian has reported.
With Israel’s aim of vaccinating 25 percent of its nine million-strong population by the end of this month, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) will need to wait.
The PA hopes to get vaccines through a WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations known as COVAX, which aims to provide free vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population of poor countries, many of which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Palestinians have only one refrigeration unit — in the oasis town of Jericho — capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine. They are among nearly 3 billion people worldwide for whom lack of adequate refrigeration capacity could pose a major obstacle.
Dr. Ali Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian health official said last month that the PA hopes to vaccinate 20 percent of the population through COVAX, beginning with health workers.
“The remainder will depend on Palestine purchasing from the global supply, and we are working with several companies,” he said.
Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) office for the Palestinian territories, said the PA will provide vaccines to Gaza, but they will arrive in batches and it will be sometime during this first quarter of the year that the first vaccines should start arriving.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians work in Israel and the settlements. They could potentially transfer the virus to Israelis who have not been vaccinated, slowing Israel’s path to herd immunity, the point at which the virus can no longer easily spread.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a group that advocates for more equitable health care, says Israel has a legal obligation as an occupying power to purchase and distribute vaccines to the Palestinians. It says Israel must also ensure that vaccines that don’t meet its own safety guidelines — like the Russian shot — are not distributed in areas under its control.
With The Associated Press