RAMALLAH, Palestine

The Palestinian Health Ministry started a COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Feb. 2, with health workers taking the first shots. But the shortage of vaccine supplies is dashing hopes of inoculating most of the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian health authorities received 2,000 vaccine doses from 5,000 doses pledged by Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“We are waiting to receive 300-500 doses for the medical care providers in the Gaza Strip from the 2000 doses sent by Israel,” Abd Al-Nasser Soboh, the head of the WHO’s emergency team in Gaza, told Anadolu Agency.

Israel has one of the most advanced vaccination campaigns in the world, inoculating more than half of the country’s 9 million population.

Tel Aviv, however, refused to give the vaccine to the Palestinians, citing that the PA is responsible for public health under the Oslo Accords.

The Palestinians argue that Israel has an obligation as an occupying force to cooperate in combating epidemic and contagious diseases. Palestinian health authorities have so far confirmed 183,365 cases, including 2,072 fatalities.

Vaccine supplies

Assistant Health Minister Ali Abd-Rabu said Palestinian authorities are seeking to get more doses from other sources to immunize the 5.1 million population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We do our obligations towards our people,” he told Anadolu Agency. “We have registered on the COVAX initiative to provide vaccines for 20% of the population.”

He said 37,440 BioNtech-Pfizer vaccines will be dispatched by the end of February under the COVAX initiative.

“We are doing deals with many companies,” he said. “We are waiting for around 50,000 doses by the end of February.”

Palestinians say they will receive another 240,000-400,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX by the end of February. The Palestinian Health Ministry has already received 10,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

According to the WHO office in Gaza, health authorities are waiting to receive 11,200 vaccine doses before launching a mass vaccination campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Dashed hopes

Palestinian civilians, however, fear that the vaccine shortage would cost the lives of their beloved ones.

“We lost our neighbor due to COVID-19 this week,” said Sahar Faroun, 27, from the town of Al-Ezareyah, east of Jerusalem.

“Every day we lose one of our beloved because of the shortage of the vaccine,” said Faroun. “Most of the infected people are elders, and they pass away without anyone caring about them.”

With a population of around 22,000 Palestinians, the town of Al-Ezareyah is located adjacent to Ma’ale Adumim settlement, where 38,155 settlers live. The vaccines are available to the settlers, but not to the Palestinians.

“When the pandemic started, I was looking for any hope to see an end to these hard days,” said Lara Soboh, 28, an accountant, who lives between Ramallah and Nablus in the West Bank.

“When news came about a new vaccine against the virus, I felt that hope is still there, but months passed and we didn’t receive any,” Soboh lamented.

“Once I have the chance to receive the vaccine, I will regain my free movement inside the West Bank and outside.”

The PA’s limited control in the West Bank is another hurdle to efforts to immunize the Palestinian population. The PA only controls 38% of the West Bank, while 62% of the occupied territory is under Israel’s military control.

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