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Palestinians begin Covid vaccinations in occupied West Bank

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, Palestine: The Palestinian Authority (PA) has started Covid vaccination in the occupied West Bank after receiving 2,000 doses from Israel, Palestinian officials said.

The Moderna vaccines are the first batch of the promised 5,000 shots to be delivered by Israel to inoculate medical workers.

In recent weeks, Israel has faced mounting global pressure, including from the United Nations, to help Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip to gain access to vaccines.

“We started today,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said on Tuesday, adding that a supply of doses would be sent to Gaza, an Israeli-blockaded territory controlled by the Palestinian group Hamas so that inoculation of front-line workers could begin in the enclave.

“We have given highest priority to health personnel … and those working in intensive care units,” she said in a video distributed by Palestinian television.

The PA has previously said it signed contracts with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V.

Last month, it said it had arranged to procure enough vaccines to cover 70% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians hope to acquire tens of thousands more doses in the coming weeks through a World Health Organization (WHO) programme.

Israel secured millions of doses through agreements with drug makers Moderna and Pfizer and has given the first of two doses to more than 3 million people out of its population of more than 9 million. It remains under lockdown, however, as the virus continues to spread at a high rate.

The Palestinians have not publicly requested vaccines from Israel and say they are securing their supplies through the WHO and contracts with pharmaceutical companies. The PA acknowledged the receipt of 2,000 doses on Monday — the first batch of vaccines sent by Israel — but did not say where they came from.

Under the Oslo accords signed in the 1990s, the PA is responsible for providing health care in the territories it administers. But the interim peace agreements say both sides should cooperate in combatting epidemics.

The WHO said on Monday that the PA would receive 37,440 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from mid-February “subject to approvals of supply agreements with manufacturers.” It said the PA would receive another 240,000 to 405,600 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from mid- to late February subject to WHO emergency use approval.

The PA says it will also buy thousands of doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which a new study indicates is safe and effective.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are being provided through COVAX, a WHO program designed to help poor countries acquire vaccines. Even if the Palestinians receive the upper limit of those deliveries, they would only be able to vaccinate up to 5% of the population of the West Bank and Gaza.