Palestinians begin coronavirus vaccination campaign

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Tuesday, with health workers receiving the first shots after the delivery of doses from Israel and international shipments expected within days.

FILE PHOTO: Empty vials of the second dose of the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine are pictured at the San Martin hospital, in La Plata, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

Medical personnel treating coronavirus patients or working in intensive care units were inoculated at Hugo Chavez hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“It was a wonderful step because it is crucial to protect medical staff who are dealing with COVID-19 patients from zero distance and are at risk of getting the infection,” said Bassil Bawatneh, the hospital’s director.

Israel transferred 2,000 doses of Moderna Inc’s vaccine on Monday and said it had earmarked another 3,000 shots for the Palestinians.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila, kicking off the vaccination programme, said that within days her ministry would receive 5,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and 37,000 doses from the COVAX global vaccine-sharing programme.

Alkaila said some of the doses would be transferred on Wednesday to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the PA’s main rival, the Islamist Hamas group.

She estimated it would take several months to complete vaccinations in Palestinian areas.

People over the age of 60 or with chronic illnesses will be the first to be inoculated among the general public, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Rights groups have called on Israel, a world leader in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, to ensure Palestinians are inoculated, citing its occupation of the West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli officials have said that task should fall to the Palestinian Health Ministry, part of the PA that exercises limited self-rule under interim peace deals.

The West Bank, where 3.1 million Palestinians live, has reported 101,221 coronavirus cases, with 1,271 deaths. Gaza, with a population of two million, has registered more than 51,000 cases with 523 deaths.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich