In Gaza and West Bank, COVID Vaccination Campaign Shrouded in Uncertainty

Jack Khoury
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Suhad Saidam adjusts one of her face masks on a youth at her sewing workshop in Gaza City, December 14, 2020.
Suhad Saidam adjusts one of her face masks on a youth at her sewing workshop in Gaza City, December 14, 2020.Credit: Adel Hana,AP
Jack Khoury

The Palestinian Authority is preparing to launch its coronavirus vaccination campaign, but officials say it’s still unclear whether they will be able to get any vaccines besides the Russian Sputnik V.

Senior PA officials said the amount of Russian vaccine they were promised should suffice for the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank. But sources in Israel and in international organizations active in Gaza said it’s not yet clear what solutions will be available for Gazans.

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“We’re in a state of uncertainty,” a senior PA Health Ministry official told Haaretz. “It’s also unclear when the vaccine will arrive in quantities that can really provide a solution for most of the population.”

PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said negotiations are being held with both Pfizer and Moderna to get their vaccines. But even if a deal is reached with Pfizer, it will probably be for only a small amount, ministry officials said, since the vaccine must be stored at very cold temperatures and the PA lacks the capability to store large quantities. It is therefore exploring other vaccine options that would be easier to handle logistically.

Over the weekend, a senior ministry official said the PA was promised four million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. But Al-Kaila said the first shipment will contain only 150,000 doses. Of these, she noted, 20 percent will come from the World Health Organization, which is helping poorer countries.

Another question is how the vaccines will reach the PA – via the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan or through Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

So far, neither the PA in the West Bank nor the Hamas government in Gaza has managed to curb the spread of the virus. According to official statistics from Gaza, only 157 new patients were diagnosed over the past day, but that may be due partly to a significant drop in the number of tests, from a daily average of 2,500 to just 750. The number of active cases in Gaza is now 8,717, including 188 seriously ill patients.

The Gazan Health Ministry said it has managed to increase the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients from 175 to 200, thanks to help from the WHO.

In the West Bank, the number of seriously ill patients rose from 85 to 95, including 30 on ventilators, over the last three days. In the past day alone, 1,207 new patients were diagnosed in the West Bank and 198 in East Jerusalem, while 14 people died in the West Bank and six in East Jerusalem.

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