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Palestinians expand vaccination campaign after UN deliveries

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Sending vaccines is a boost for the West Bank, where PA has struggled to get vaccines as the infection rate has risen in recent weeks. So far it has provided only 10,000 doses of the Russ Sputnik V vaccine and 2,000 shots fired from Israel to the approximately 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In contrast, Gaza, which has been under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took control of the area in 2007, has received more than 80,000 vaccines. Most of them were of the Russian type and came from a rival of President Mahmoud Abbas based in the United Arab Emirates.

Mohammed Dahlan, who has lived in Abu Dhabi since he clashed with Abbas in 2011, has secured 60,000 shots fired in Gaza and promised more, embarrassing Abbas ahead of the Palestinian elections scheduled for May.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the vaccines would go to medical workers and the elderly. We are here to start preventive vaccination for our people against coronavirus, he said.

Even with the arrival of vaccines, Palestinian areas lag far behind Israel, which has vaccinated about 80% of its adult population. Inequality has drawn attention to inequalities in the global distribution of vaccines between rich and poor countries.

UN officials and human rights groups have said that Israel is an occupying power responsible for vaccinating the Palestinian population. Israel says that under the interim peace agreements, it has no such responsibility. But in recent weeks, he has inoculated over 100,000 Palestinian workers in the West Bank who have permits to work within Israel and its West Bank settlements.

The Pfizer / BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are the first to be distributed by COVAX in the Palestinian territories.

At a Gaza City clinic, five WHO staff and five local medical staff were the first to be inoculated with doses donated by COVAX.

We are very proud to be here today with our honored colleagues to promote the first arrival of vaccines through COVAX, said Sacha Bootsma, head of the WHO office in Gaza, who received the first vaccine at the event.

She added that a second shipment of 57,600 AstraZeneca vaccines is expected to be delivered to Gaza by the end of April.

Several European countries have raised safety concerns regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine. But major countries, including France, Italy and Germany, have resumed use of the vaccine and the Palestinian Authority has approved its use.

Bootsma noted that both vaccines have been certified by the WHO globally through a very long and rigorous process.

Dr. Majdi Dhair, a health ministry official, said only 11,200 from Gaza, 2 million people have been inoculated so far, saying turnout began to rise a month after the vaccines were distributed. Bootsma said the limited number of vaccines in Gaza prevents a mass vaccination campaign.

The Gaza Strip has seen at least 58,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since August and 582 deaths. The West Coast reported nearly 163,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,824 deaths.

In recent weeks, Hamas authorities governing the territory have eased almost all restrictions on the coronavirus, despite warnings from health officials.

Bootsma criticized the move.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. We are all still at risk of becoming infected, especially now that the government has eased all restrictions, she said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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