RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Israel will start rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign next week after the prime minister personally contacted the head of a major pharmaceutical company. Millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer.
Rich countries around the world are grabbing meager supplies of new vaccines while poor countries rely heavily on a World Health Organization program that has yet to take off. There are few places where the competition is closer than in Israel and the territories it has occupied for more than half a century.
Next year could bring a marked divergence in the trajectory of the pandemic, which so far has blithely ignored national borders and political enmities in the Middle East. Israelis may soon return to normal life and economic recovery, even as the virus continues to threaten Palestinian towns and villages a few miles away.
Israel has reached a deal with pharmaceutical company Pfizer to deliver 8 million doses of its newly approved vaccine – enough to cover nearly half of Israel’s population of 9 million since each person needs two doses. It came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly personally contacted Pfizer Managing Director Albert Bourla, boasting that at one point he was able to join the CEO at 2 a.m.
Israel has mobile vaccination units with refrigerators that can keep Pfizer injections at the required temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit). He plans to start vaccinations as early as next week, with a capacity of over 60,000 shots per day. Israel made a separate deal with Moderna earlier this month to purchase 6 million doses of its vaccine – enough for 3 million more Israelis.
Israel’s vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep in the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians.
They will have to wait for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank in accordance with interim peace accords reached in the 1990s. Israel has seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. -Is, territories that the Palestinians seek for their future state, during the war in the Middle East of 1967.
The PA hopes to obtain vaccines through a WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations known as COVAX, which aims to provide free vaccines to up to 20% of the population in poor countries, many of whom have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
But the program has only gotten a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm actual transactions, and is running out of cash. Rich countries have already reserved around 9 billion of the estimated 12 billion doses that the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year.
To complicate matters, the Palestinians have only one refrigeration unit – in the Jericho oasis – capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine. They are among nearly 3 billion people worldwide for whom the lack of adequate refrigeration capacity could be a major obstacle.
Dr Ali Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian health official, said the PA is in talks with Pfizer and Moderna – whose vaccines require extra-cold storage – as well as AstraZeneca and vaccine makers. Russian largely untested., but has yet to sign any agreements beyond COVAX.
The PA hopes to vaccinate 20% of the population through COVAX, starting with health workers, he said. “The rest will depend on how Palestine purchases from the global supply, and we are working with several companies,” he said.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority have struggled to contain their outbreaks, which have fed on each other as people travel back and forth – mainly tens of thousands of Palestinian workers employed in Israel. Israel reported more of 350,000 cases, including more than 3,000 deaths.
The Palestinian Authority has reported more than 85,000 cases in the West Bank, including more than 800 deaths, and the epidemic has escalated in recent weeks. The situation is even more dire in Gaza, home to 2 million Palestinians, which has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockades since the militant Hamas group seized power in 2007. Authorities have reported more than 30,000 cases there, including 220. death.
With the Hamas leadership in Gaza being rejected by the international community, the territory will also come under the Palestinian Authority. This means that it could be several months before large-scale vaccinations are carried out in the impoverished coastal strip.
Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, WHO’s bureau chief for the Palestinian territories, said the PA will provide vaccines to Gaza, but they will arrive in batches and it will take time to reach the top 20 %. “We hope that in the first quarter of next year the first vaccines start to arrive,” he said.
Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Kan Radio that Israel is striving to obtain a surplus of vaccines for the Israelis and that “if we see that Israel’s demands have been met and that we have additional capacity, we will certainly consider helping the Palestinian Authority. He said this would help prevent a resurgence of epidemics in Israel proper.
Dr Ashi Shalmon, an official with the Israeli Ministry of Health, said his approach was in line with past agreements. The Oslo accords require the Palestinian Authority to maintain international immunization standards and that the parties exchange information and cooperate in the fight against epidemics.
Israel, which intends to vaccinate health workers and residents of nursing homes first, plans to issue special “passports” to those who have been vaccinated, exempting them from restrictions and paving the way for the revival of health workers. travel and commerce.
But the pandemic would continue to rage in Palestinian cities like Bethlehem – where hotels and shops have been empty for months and Christmas celebrations have mostly been called off – even as a sense of normalcy is restored in Israel and the cities. neighboring colonies.
Yet tens of thousands of Palestinians work in Israel and in the settlements. They could potentially transfer the virus to Israelis who have not been vaccinated, slowing Israel’s path to collective immunity, to the point where the virus can no longer spread easily.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a group that advocates for more equitable health care, says Israel has a legal obligation as the occupying power to purchase and distribute vaccines to Palestinians. He says Israel must also ensure that vaccines that do not meet its own safety guidelines – like the Russian vaccine – are not distributed in areas under its control.
“Israel still retains control over many aspects of Palestinian life, from checkpoints, importing goods and medicine, and controlling the movement of people,” said Ghada Majadle, director of group activities in the Palestinian territories.
“The Palestinian health care system, whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, is in a deplorable state, mainly (because of) restrictions imposed by Israel.”
Associated Press editors Jelal Hassan in Ramallah, West Bank, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem, and Fares Akram in Gaza, Gaza Strip contributed to this report.