Palestinian Authority faces criticism over vaccine rollout
A decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to divert some of its tiny stockpile of coronavirus vaccines to senior officials, football players and others has sparked controversy.
The development feeds into long-standing concerns about corruption, as the authority struggles to respond to a worsening outbreak.
The PA has repeatedly said that its first vaccines would go to medical workers and elderly patients, who are at greatest risk of severe illness or death. But to date it has only acquired enough doses to inoculate 6,000 people in a population of nearly five million.
Health minister Mai Alkaila said the authority had “focused from the beginning on health workers, but there are around 100,000” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. “It’s not enough,” she said.
The health ministry said it had secured tens of thousands more doses through a World Health Organisation programme designed to aid poor countries and through agreements with pharmaceutical companies, but they had yet to materialise following weeks of delays.
Israel, which has faced international criticism for not sharing its vast stockpile with Palestinians living in territories it has controlled for more than half-a-century, has given the PA 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
The PA acquired another 10,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
Both are given in two doses.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and Aman, another Palestinian group that promotes transparency, have each issued statements calling on the Palestinian government to explain the criteria used for distributing the vaccines.
The ICHR said it had documented cases in which the vaccine was distributed “based on mediation and personal relationships, without a justified medical priority”, as well as cases in which officials had helped their relatives to obtain the vaccine without medical justification.
Ms Alkaila said 2,000 doses had been shipped to Gaza, which is ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas and is under an Israeli/Egyptian blockade.
She said another 200 doses had been sent to the royal court in neighbouring Jordan, without providing details.
Of the remaining 9,800 doses, she said 90% had been given to health workers. The remainder went to security forces who guard President Mahmoud Abbas, who is 85, and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. They also went to senior members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation who are over age 65, as well as civil servants preparing for elections planned for later this year.
Ms Alkaila said vaccines were also given to members of the national football team to allow them to represent the Palestinians in international matches, and to students who required certificates of vaccination to study abroad.
She acknowledged that authorities had erred by giving the vaccines to at least two journalists in Bethlehem but said they had acted contrary to regulations and were admonished for it.
The Palestinian Authority was established in the 1990s as part of agreements with Israel to administer parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state.
Under these agreements, the PA is responsible for healthcare in the areas it administers, but both sides are to co-operate in combatting epidemics.
The Palestinians have reported nearly 190,000 Covid-19 cases and at least 2,063 deaths since the pandemic began, and the PA imposed new restrictions this week in response to the rising number of cases.