BEIRUT (Reuters) - The World Bank threatened on Tuesday to suspend its multi-million dollar financing for Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccinations over politicians jumping the line.
Local media and officials said some lawmakers got shots in parliament on Tuesday while other Lebanese in the priority groups were still waiting their turn, drawing a rebuke from the doctor leading the campaign and outrage on social media.
The World Bank’s reallocation of $34 million enabled Lebanon to receive its first two batches of about 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses this month.
The bank has monitored the rollout to ensure the first shots go to healthcare workers and the elderly. It had warned against favouritism in the country, where decades of state waste and corruption have triggered a financial meltdown.
“Upon confirmation of violation, World Bank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID-19 response across Lebanon!!” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted. He called it a breach of the national plan.
“I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One lawmaker, who asked not to be named, said several older current and former lawmakers, as well as administrative staff, were vaccinated in the parliament hall without media coverage.
“What’s the big deal?” he said. He said doses were sent last week to the Baabda palace for President Michel Aoun and others.
The president’s office confirmed that Aoun, 86, got a shot as did his wife and 10 people from his close team. The statement said they were registered on the online vaccines platform without clarifying whether they were in the high-risk categories.
The doctor who heads Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination committee, Abdul Rahman Bizri, said it was unaware vaccines would be sent to parliament. “What happened today is unacceptable,” he told reporters.
Deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, who is 71, tweeted that he got a shot.
Around the nation, outrage spread.
“My grandfather is an 85-year-old decent man suffering from heart problems. My grandfather is a priority and he still did not get the vaccine,” tweeted Jad al-Hamawi.
“What are you? Bunch of hypocrites. Selfish. Criminals.”
Pop star Elissa tweeted: “Shame on this country and its leaders ... Are these MPs more important than the people?”
Another Lebanese, Jonathan Dagher, wrote on Facebook: “As our loved ones gasp for oxygen in COVID-19 wards, MPs cut the line today to take the vaccine.”
A surge in infections since January has taken Lebanon’s death toll over 4,400.
Even before news of the lawmakers broke, the head of Lebanon’s doctors syndicate, Charaf Abou Charaf, warned on Tuesday of “many violations”. He said people who were neither registered nor high-risk had received vaccines while some medical workers and elderly Lebanese still waited.
Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alison Williams
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