After the delivery of vaccines donated by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, the inoculation drive against COVID-19 in the besieged Gaza Strip kicked off.
The first shots of 22,000 Russian Sputnik V jabs in front of hundreds of cameras were received by officials and health workers on Monday.
Medhat Mahisen, a representative of the Ministry of Health, said the first targets for the vaccine roll-out would be healthcare staff working with patients with COVID-19.
According to a statement on the Ministry of Health website, he also urged people to register online for the vaccine.
“I am proud the health sector was able to overcome this difficult time, with limited resources but great dedication,” said Riyad Zanoun, a former Gaza health minister, after receiving his first dose.
In the blockaded coastal region occupied by the Palestinian Hamas party, two other former health ministers, Jawad al-Tibi and Bassem Naeem, were also inoculated.
Almost 54,400 cases and 543 deaths have been reported by the Gaza health authorities, including 128 new infections over the past 24 hours.
Since Hamas seized control of the region in 2007 from its competitor, Fatah, Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
A very small fraction of what is needed to immunize the Strip, home to two million people, including some 1.4 million adults, is the amount of vaccines obtained.
The occupied West Bank is still dealing with shortages of vaccinations. On February 2, after receiving 2,000 doses from Israel, in addition to 10,000 doses from Russia, the Palestinian Authority (PA) launched a vaccination program, with 2,000 being moved to Gaza last week following Israel’s approval.
Via the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme, the PA plans to protect 20 percent of the Palestinians. The global network, however, has not yet begun to distribute vaccines and has so far struggled to obtain doses.
The restricted roll-out of Palestinian vaccinations stands in stark contrast to Israel, which in the coming weeks is on track to immunize almost all of its adult population with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Among those vaccinated are the Palestinian residents of Israel.
Since it signed an agreement with Pfizer, Israel has become a real-world research laboratory, agreeing to share large troves of medical data with the multinational drug maker in return for the continued flow of its vaccine.
UN officials and human rights organizations have expressed concern about inequalities in the provision of vaccinations and have said that Israel, as an occupying force, has a duty to assist the Palestinians.
Israel says the PA is accountable under transitional peace agreements.
The World Bank urged Israel in a study released on Monday to consider donating surplus doses to the Palestinians to help speed up the roll-out of vaccinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The study added that, even after factoring in support for a global vaccine scheme for poorer economies, the Palestinians’ COVID-19 vaccination programme faces a $30m funding deficit.