First batch of COVAX-supplied vaccines arrives for Palestinians
JERUSALEM, March 17 (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday received its first batch of vaccines from the global COVAX sharing initiative, in a boost to inoculations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza lagging far behind Israel's campaign.
A Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman said 38,000 doses of the Pfizer PFE.N/BioNTech 22UAy.DE vaccine would be used for inoculations as of Sunday, while 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca AZN.L vaccine would be stored "until there is a scientific decision from the World Health Organization".
The WHO, one of the leaders of the COVAX programme, has said its advisory panel was reviewing reports from several countries of isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts after administration of the AstraZeneca shots.
But the organisation appealed to nations on Monday not to pause vaccination campaigns over the safety fears.
The vaccines shipped to Tel Aviv were the first sent by the WHO to the Palestinians under the COVAX drive it set up with the GAVI vaccine alliance to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations globally.
Further COVAX shipments are expected in a few months.
A truck brought the initial shipment from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. About a third of the doses have been allocated for Gaza.
An official in the office of the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said the vaccines "will be critical tools in our fight against the pandemic and for socioeconomic recovery".
The Palestinian Authority hopes to cover about 20% of the Palestinian population through the COVAX initiative. It said the initial doses from COVAX would be given to health workers, cancer and kidney patients and people over the age of 75.
The West Bank, where 3.1 million Palestinians live, has reported 146,359 coronavirus cases, with 1,667 deaths. Gaza, with a population of two million, has registered more than 57,891 cases with 572 deaths.
Health officials in Gaza said some 8,500 people had received the first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. In the West Bank, about 5,000 have had their first shot.
About 90,000 of the 120,000 Palestinian labourers who have Israeli work permits have been vaccinated by Israel, which has been a world leader in its vaccination rollout.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Nick Macfie
Writing by Jeffrey Heller)