Lebanon received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines Saturday ahead of a nationwide campaign to start vaccinations in the tiny Mediterranean country, which has seen a sharp rise in cases and fatalities in recent weeks.
The 28,500 Pfizer doses from Brussels arrived on a plane of Lebanon’s national carrier and were to be taken to the Health Ministry’s warehouse, state-run National News Agency reported. From there, the vaccines will be sent to other parts of the country.
The first vaccinations are scheduled to take place in limited numbers on Sunday at three medical centers in the capital Beirut before the process begins in more than a dozen centers on Monday, local media reported. Within two weeks, the Health Ministry says 57 vaccination centers are to be set up nationwide.
Lebanon has registered about 337,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,961 deaths since the country’s first registered case in February last year.
Lebanon succeeded in containing the virus during the pandemic’s early months, but the numbers began to increase following a massive blast in the capital’s port in August, which caused widespread damage in the city. The number of cases and deaths hit record highs after an estimated 80,000 expats flowed to the country to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with loved ones.
Lebanon imposed a nationwide lockdown including a curfew as of Jan. 11 to try limit the spread of the virus.
More Pfizer doses are scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks and at a later stage AstraZeneca shots will be brought in, according to Abdul-Rahman Bizri, head of the national committee on COVID-19 vaccines.
So far, some 450,000 people have registered to take the vaccines, said Health Minister Hamad Hassan upon the shots’ arrival Saturday. The figure is still a small percentage of the country of around six million, including a million Syrian refugees.
The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
World Bank Regional Director Saroj Kumar Jha told reporters in a virtual news conference in late January that Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses from Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people “and this we are financing in full.” The World Bank will also help in financing other vaccines.
“We will MONITOR fair and transparent distribution to PRIORITY groups,” Ferid Belhaj, World Bank RegionaL vice president, wrote in a tweet. He said health workers and the elderly would be first in line, warning against favoritism.
Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan told reporters it was a “dream come true” that the first vaccines had arrived nearly a year after Lebanon detected its first case of the virus. He pledged the vaccines would eventually reach everyone, seeking to dispel fears that politicians would try to jump the queue.
“THE BEST GIFT for Valentine’s Day ”
Firass Abiad, head of Rafik Hariri hospital, said its medical staff would get their shots within 24 hours.
“The best gift one can ask for on Valentine’s day,” he said on Twitter on Saturday.
Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, leaving half of its population below the poverty line. The vaccines will be free of charge for the public.
The plan will begin by vaccinating workers in the medical sector and people age 75 and above, as well as others with chronic diseases.
The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies signed an agreement on Saturday for independent monitoring of Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination campaign. This is reportedly to prevent favoritism in the local allocation and distribution of the vaccine as well as preventing smuggling the vaccines to countries friendly to Hezbollah such as Iran and Syria as in the case of flour, medicine and fuel . Lebanon subsidizes the import of flour medicine and fuel but a large percentage of these products were smuggled out of the country resulting in shortages in Lebanon
The total number of doses ordered so far would cover about half of Lebanon’s population
Hassan has said Lebanon’s president, parliament speaker and premier would get some of the first vaccines to boost morale.
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