Israel Postpones COVID Vaccine Drive for Palestinian Workers, Citing Budget Issues

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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A vaccination center in Qalandiya, just north of Jerusalem and in the West Bank, last week
A vaccination center in Qalandiya, just north of Jerusalem and in the West Bank, last week Credit: Emil Salman
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

The vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with permits to work in Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank scheduled to begin on Sunday will be postponed due to budgetary issues. 

According to sources familiar with the matter, funding for the campaign was originally intended to come from the Health Ministry's budget. But on Thursday night, following a decision by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, funding for the drive was instead tacked on to an inter-ministerial budget for wide-ranging coronavirus-related expenditures, which has not yet been approved by the government. There is concern this inter-ministerial budget won't be approved at the next cabinet meeting due to disagreements with Kahol Lavan, the sources said.  

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No new date has been set for the start of the campaign. The postponement took contractors and those involved in the campaign by surprise, as they had believed that the budget for it had already been approved. 

On Thursday night, a pilot for the campaign was held at the Sha'ar Ephraim checkpoint near Tulkarem in the West Bank, during which 700 Palestinian workers were vaccinated, according to the Israeli military. 

Vaccines from Moderna had been allocated for the 120,000 Palestinian workers. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said on Wednesday that the inoculations would take place at compounds placed at eight checkpoints in the West Bank and in four settlements.

According to the plan announced on Wednesday, the Palestinian workers are to be vaccinated on a voluntary basis, and COGAT said they had explained to employers they are not allowed to force employees to vaccinate. Employers will be responsible for scheduling appointments and they will not be allowed to come to the compounds independently.

The vaccination centers, staffed by Israeli medical teams and representatives of the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry's Crossing Points Authority, were to be set up on the Israeli side of the checkpoints. The idea was for the workers to receive a shot as they return home to the West Bank after work and the plan was to operate them through Israeli medical teams in cooperation with representatives of the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry.

The Israeli authorities said they also plan a campaign to encourage workers to get vaccinated and refute conspiracy theories concerning the vaccine, which have been spreading on social media. One of those mock the workers as "lab rats."

COGAT has produced videos in Arabic for social media, with information on the advantages and safety of the vaccines and officials also plan to be interviewed by Palestinian media. 

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