The Palestinian Authority has reached agreements with four vaccine companies, which has included granting “emergency approval” for the Russian coronavirus vaccine to be administered in its territory, covering up to 70 percent of the population, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said on Monday.
Although Al-Kaila’s statement didn’t specify when the vaccines would arrive, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for marketing Sputnik V abroad, said the first shipment is expected to arrive next month, with all deliveries expected in the first quarter of this year.
The PA, which controls the West Bank but not the Gaza Strip, also said Sunday that it expects to receive its first vaccine doses from British drug maker AstraZeneca in March, but sources have since told Haaretz that the first order could arrive as early as January 25.
Al-Kaila said on Saturday that the four companies would provide enough doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the PA’s population. The PA expects the World Health Organization to provide doses to cover another 20 percent.
Initially, the PA plans to vaccinate medical staffers and elderly people.
The number of coronavirus cases in the PA has risen sharply recently, and the territory has not yet received any vaccines from any source. Last week, 16 Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations demanded that Israel provide vaccines to both the West Bank and Gaza, arguing that it is obligated to do so under international law.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and several Israeli human rights organizations spoke directly to Pfizer about acquiring the vaccine for the Palestinian territories, but were only offered a very limited amount, which the PA feared could create tension among Palestinians over vaccine distribution, sources told Haaretz.
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The announcement makes the Palestinian government the second in the Middle East to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, a day after Algeria registered it for use. The vaccine has previously been approved for emergency use by local regulators in Argentina, Bolivia and Serbia, among others.
RDIF did not disclose how many doses would be shipped to the PA, but said the supplies would be facilitated by manufacturing partners in India, China, South Korea and elsewhere.
It also did not disclose the financial arrangements of the export deal but has said previously that Sputnik V would be priced at less than $20 per dose. The price includes the first shot and the booster, which is injected 21 days later.
The PA said later it was allocating $10.5 million as a down-payment for the first stage of vaccination, to arrive within two months. The final cost will be $21 million, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh's office said in a statement.
Russian news agencies quoted RDIF’s CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, as saying Sputnik V is over 90 percent effective when given in two doses, and that more than 1.5 million people in Russia and other countries have so far received it.
The Russian vaccine is also much easier to store and transport than the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius. Sputnik V can be stored at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, Dmitriev said, “which means the vaccine can be stored in ordinary refrigerators.”