Israel says COVID-19 vaccines rejected by Palestinians were safe

JERUSALEM, June 19 (Reuters) - COVID-19 vaccines delivered by Israel and then rejected by the Palestinian Authority (PA) over their expiration date were fine, the Israeli health ministry said on Saturday.

Israel and the PA on Friday announced a vaccine swap deal that would have seen Israel send up to 1.4 million doses of the vaccine made jointly by Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech (22UAy.DE) to the PA in exchange for receiving a reciprocal number of doses later this year.

But soon after the announcement, the PA cancelled the deal and said it had sent an initial shipment of around 90,000 doses back to Israel. The PA's Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the delivery showed a June expiration date, sooner than the July-August date that had been agreed. read more

The "vaccine delivery transferred to the Palestinian Authority yesterday was perfectly in order," the Israeli health ministry said in a statement. The dates were known and agreed to by both parties, it said. "The vaccines delivered to the Palestinians are identical in every way to the vaccines currently being administered to Israel's citizens."

Some 30% of eligible Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million people, have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials, from shipments supplied by Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.

Many Palestinians voiced outrage on social media to Friday's deal, criticizing their leaders for accepting doses that were near expiration date.

Rights groups had criticised Israel, which led one of the world's swiftest vaccination campaigns, for not doing more to ensure Palestinian access to doses in the West Bank and Gaza, territory it captured in a 1967 war. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are covered by Israel's healthcare providers and are included in its vaccine drive.

Israeli officials argue that under the Oslo peace accords, the PA health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mike Harrison

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