Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has ordered the Palestinian Authority to scrap a deal in which Israel would give the PA about 1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine because many of the doses are set to expire.
The Palestinians said the doses, which Israel began shipping to the West Bank, are too close to expiring and do not meet their standards. In announcing the agreement, Israel had said the vaccines “will expire soon” without specifying the date.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announced the decision in a press conference, just hours after the agreement was struck.
Israel said Thursday that it would transfer the vaccines to the PA in the coming days. The first 100,000 doses were transferred to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank Friday afternoon.
The new Israeli government, which was sworn in on Sunday, said that the Palestinian Authority would reimburse it with a similar number of vaccines when it receives them from the pharmaceutical company in September or October. Up to 1.4 million doses could be exchanged, the Israeli government said in a statement.
Israeli Health Ministry sources later confirmed that some vaccines would expire by the end of June or July. However, they said that the PA was completely aware of that as well as the amount of vaccines it was supposed to receive.
A senior official in the ministry said the decision to cancel the deal is probably due to "an internal Palestinian issue."
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Speaking in a press conference, Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesman for the Palestinian government, said that all the doses that Israel has already transferred to the PA would expire by the end of the month.
Melhem said that the PA was not aware that the vaccines were about to expire, and expressed concern that Israel will continue transferring soon-to-expire doses.
Israel's Health Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that its Palestinian counterpart "Received proper Pfizer vaccines with expiration dates that were already known (by the Palestinians) and agreed to in the deal between the parties."
"The vaccines delivered to the Palestinians are identical in every way to the ones currently being given to citizens in Israel," the statement continued.
A political source told Haaretz that Israel and the Palestinians are still in contact about the vaccine deal which Israel hopes to roll out, even if only partially. The source added that the PA knew about the expiration date of the vaccines before signing the deal with Israel.
Following the PA's cancelation of the deal, questions about the Palestinian Health Ministry's conduct were raised in Ramallah and on social media. Just hours after confirming the vaccine deal, al-Kaila said they didn't meet the Palestinians' standards after health ministry staffers had inspected the vaccines. According to a Palestinian source, the PA didn't clarify its contradicting statements on Friday.
Palestinian officials had come under heavy criticism on social media after the agreement was announced, with many accusing the PA of accepting subpar vaccines and suggesting they might be ineffective. Calls were also made for al-Kaila to resign and to establisha a committee to investigate the Health Ministry's handling of the deal.
Earlier on Friday, both Israel's Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and his Palestinian counterpart Mai al-Kaila welcomed the agreement.
“This is not an agreement with Israel, but with the Pfizer company," al-Kaila said earlier Friday, before the deal was called off.
Israel's decision to send the vaccines was made in principle by the previous government, but the details had not been finalized.
Although Palestinians sources claimed the vaccines would have been given to people in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, political sources said that according to agreement with Israel the inoculations would have been limited to West Bank residents and that the PA had agreed to its terms.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 436,275 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received at least one dose of vaccine, including around 260,000 who have received both doses. This includes around 100,000 Palestinians employed in Israel, who have been vaccinated by Israel over the past few months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.