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Covid-19: Palestinians to receive first batch of Russian vaccine by weekend

The Palestinian health ministry has approved Sputnik V vaccine for domestic use, making it 'the first country in the Middle East' to do so
Palestinian health workers collect random swab samples from people to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 11 January 2021 (AFP)

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is expected to roll out in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by the weekend, according to a Palestinian Authority minister.

Hussien al-Sheikh, the head of the PA’s General Authority of Civil Affairs, said on Tuesday that the first batch of the Russian vaccine, named after the first Soviet spaceship, will be received “within days”.

On 11 January, the Palestinian health ministry said it has approved the main Russian vaccine against Covid-19 for domestic use, making it "the first country in the Middle East" to do so. The PA is hoping to vaccinate 50,000 Palestinians by March. 

Abdel-Hafiz Nofal, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, said it would send 5,000 vaccine doses to the West Bank "by the end of the week."

"We are working to seal an agreement with the Russian government to buy 100,000 doses, which are enough to vaccinate 50,000 people," Nofal told Reuters

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Nofel added that Russia would not charge for this initial consignment, and said that 100,000 doses were the highest figure Moscow could sell the PA up until February.

He added that the PA is attempting to negotiate a discount on the price of the vaccine as Russia's standard export price for the two-dose Sputnik V is $18.

World leader in vaccination

On the other side, Israel, which has become the world leader in vaccination per capita, is using vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

Israel did not expand its vaccination programme to include almost 3.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank nor the 2.1 million in the besieged Gaza Strip, except for Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

The country has boasted that it is surpassing other nations with its vaccination campaign against the Covid-19 virus, with more than 28 percent of its 9 million population receiving the first of two jabs since December.

Israel pays a higher price to gain priority access to the vaccine - reports have indicated that Israel had paid $62 per dose, while its cost in the United States does not exceed $20.

An Israeli official confirmed that Sputnik doses could arrive at the border of Jordan to the West Bank. Palestinian medical personnel, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses are the first in line to take the vaccine, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

In March, Palestine is also expected to receive its initial Covid-19 vaccine doses from British drugmaker AstraZeneca, the PA said.

As of Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded a total of over 171,739 cases in the occupied territories, including 1,889 deaths.

Israel has been criticised by human rights organisations for shirking its responsibilities as an occupying power - as defined under international law - by failing to deliver vaccines to the five million Palestinians living in the occupied territories and prisoners.

After coming under pressure from rights groups, the Israeli government agreed last week to begin vaccinating Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein confirmed on Thursday that Israel would vaccinate Palestinian prisoners after President Reuven Rivlin said failure to vaccinate prisoners went against Israel's democratic values. 

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