West Bank-based NGOs have called for an investigation of senior Palestinian officials who allegedly received special access to coronavirus vaccines, while most Palestinians still await the promised arrivals of the inoculations.
The organizations are asking that Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government establish a committee of inquiry to examine the distribution of vaccine in the initial phase. They also request to establish a committee of experts that will draft a clear and transparent plan for access to vaccinations.
Some of the information indicating that senior officials and the well-connected have received preferential access came from “decision makers who were offered the vaccine but refused them, demanding that the vaccine be given to those who needed them the most,” said Haj Hussein, the executive director of AMAN, an organization that promotes government transparency and fights against corruption. He spoke at a press conference on the subject Monday.
Similar information about preferential access to the vaccine has been received by the Independent Palestinian Commission for Human Rights, an agency that serves as a state comptroller of sorts and monitors the Palestinian Authority institutions and their commitment to human rights.
Those who spoke at the press conference complained about confusion and contradictions in the information provided by Palestinian government agencies regarding the vaccines and where they came from. By compiling the various reports about the vaccines that have arrived, journalists and independent medical officials have concluded that 12,000 doses have been received by the Palestinian Authority, 2,000 of which were sent to the Gaza Strip. Two thousand of the doses were provided by Israel, although official Palestinian spokespeople have avoided confirming this.
In its first reaction to allegations, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday that so far only 7,000 doses have been received, of which 2,000 were sent to Gaza. There have been no violations of the criteria regarding who should receive access to the vaccine, the ministry said, and anyone who has received it in violation of the criteria has found their own way of getting it from Israel – and not from the limited supply the PA has received.
There are also those who have been selling the vaccine, a Health Ministry spokesman told a reporter from Al-Ghad television, but they have not obtained doses that the PA had received.
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That vaccines have been available for purchase is one of the many rumors that have circulated among West Bank Palestinians, and it’s difficult to know how plausible they might be – given the cold storage and transportation requirements. Issam al Arouri, who spoke at the press conference on behalf of a coalition of NGOs, said reports of the smuggling of vaccine from Israel and of the existence of a vaccine black market had to be investigated, even if the possible doses involved was small.
Palestinian journalists have said they are aware of senior officials and their office staff receiving the inoculation, even though they don’t yet qualify – but the journalists are unable to report on the matter or to provide names. Among the NGOs’ demands is that the names of those who have been vaccinated will be disclosed – and that those who do not meet the criteria be accountable. The NGOs said that back in December, they warned Palestinian officials that they had to act with transparency – to avoid familiar practices involving preference to senior officials and profiteering.