Palestinian COVID-19 vaccine rollout under fire over doses for VIPs

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The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday confirmed that it diverted some COVID-19 vaccination doses meant for medical workers to VIPs as critics charged but said this involved a small fraction of inoculations.

A health ministry statement said 10 percent of the 12,000 doses it received were given to the Palestinian national football team, government ministers, presidential guards and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s topmost Executive Committee. Another 200 doses went to the Jordanian royal court, after a request from Amman.

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But it said the other 90 percent went to health workers treating COVID-19 cases in intensive care units and emergency departments, and health ministry workers.

The ministry statement followed criticism from several Palestinian human rights and civil society groups, who urged an investigation into the vaccination program, saying it was 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.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - who last month announced the first elections in 15 years - has long faced accusations of nepotism and cronyism. In a December poll, 86 percent of Palestinians questioned said they viewed PA institutions as corrupt.

But, defending its vaccination program, the health ministry said the ministers and security officials who received vaccines were “in direct contact with the president and the prime minister.” Others were election officials and the football team needed vaccination certificates because they were traveling abroad, “to represent Palestine in a match.”

The West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million Palestinians, have received around 34,700 vaccine doses to date. These came from small donations by Israel and Russia as well as 20,000 sent by the United Arab Emirates to Gaza.

The numbers lag far behind Israel, which has vaccinated more than one-third of its nine million people in one of the world’s fastest roll-outs.

Palestinians have accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including them in its inoculation program.

But Israeli officials have said that under the Oslo peace accords, the PA health ministry is responsible.

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