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First COVID-19 Vaccines Denied Entry to Gaza

[Gaza City] The Health Ministry in Gaza was expecting the arrival of the Strip’s first COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, but after more than 18 hours of waiting, Israel denied permission for the shipment to enter the coastal enclave.

“The vaccine shipment, which was expected to arrive via the Kerem Shalom crossing, is part of the Russian aid for Palestinians to face the pandemic,” Majdy Dhair, deputy chief of primary care at Gaza’s Health Ministry, told The Media Line.

“Today, 2,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was to have been transferred to the Gaza Strip, but the occupation authorities prevented their entry,” Palestinian Authority Health Minister Dr. Mai al-Kaila said on Monday evening.

The shipment was returned to Ramallah so it could be kept in cold storage, a Palestinian official said.

Kaila held Israel responsible for the obstruction, describing it as “contrary to all customs, laws and international agreements.”

Israeli officials said the vaccine shipment was stopped because the PA did not supply the necessary paperwork.

In response to the Israeli measure, Kaila stressed that “the Palestinian government and the Ministry of Health are communicating with international organizations to bring vaccines to the Gaza Strip as quickly as possible.”

Assuming the Russian medicine arrives, certain groups will be prioritized for vaccination, given the limited quantity involved, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, the spokesperson of Gaza’s Health Ministry.

“The shipment [which was expected to arrive on Monday] is enough to inoculate 1,000 individuals, two jabs for each. So the first batch will probably go to transplant patients and those with kidney failure, and not to medical staff, who will receive inoculations when we receive more vaccines in the coming shipments,” Qedra told The Media Line.

Without giving precise dates, he said, “We are expecting an additional amount of vaccines from COVAX [a global collaboration aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines] that might reach 20,000 doses.”

Also on Monday, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the start of inoculations in the West Bank would be postponed, because “a delay occurred in the arrival of the required quantities of vaccine.” A new start date will be announced once the requisite quantities of vaccine arrive, he said.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s health care system is severely run-down, presenting yet another obstacle to dealing with the pandemic.

“With the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Strip, there is a real threat to the health system in all its components. We are talking about a shortage of more than 44% in basic medicines, 32% in medical supplies, and 60% in blood bank supplies. Not to forget the restrictions on the movement of medical delegations, aid convoys and patients in need of treatment outside the Strip, as 40-45% of travel-for-treatment requests were denied by the Israeli side even before the outbreak of COVID-19,” Qedra claimed.

Sameh al-Haytham, 30, is a medical laboratory technician who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of vaccines.

“I am among those who are on the first line of defense, and thus are more vulnerable to infection, and working while knowing that we’re not immune to the virus has always been a nightmare for me. I’d be so relieved if we could have the vaccine to protect ourselves and our families,” Haytham told The Media Line.

Yet there are those who have decided not to accept any of the vaccines, considering them to be more dangerous than the coronavirus.

“Everything had happened so quickly: the outbreak, the lockdown, and the research for the vaccines as well. How can I trust a vaccine and be sure that it’s not going to kill me instead of protecting me? Honestly, I prefer two weeks of COVID-19, lying in my bed, over getting killed by whatever side effect,” Yousef Abu Alroos told The Media Line.

Dr. Mohammad Abu Rayya, an epidemiologist and health consultant, in an effort to allay such fears, said the benefits of vaccination were much greater than any possible side effects.

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine “and the other types of vaccinations, whether Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca, have all been tested and approved before delivering them to countries around the world. It’s true that there are rare cases of complications and death in some cases, but in the end, we are committed to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which call for everyone in general, and people working in medical fields or those with chronic diseases, in particular, to receive vaccination to protect themselves and their families,” he told The Media Line.

Abu Rayya also said that “given the surge in COVID-19 infections in the Gaza Strip, which has reached almost 40% [of those tested], residents should register themselves on the Health Ministry’s lists, to ensure receiving vaccination when new quantities of jabs arrive.”