JERUSALEM – Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians to immunize frontline medical workers, Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office said Sunday.
It was the first time Israel confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians, who lag far behind Israel’s aggressive vaccination campaign and have not yet received any vaccines.
The World Health Organization has raised concerns about inequality between Israel and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and international human rights groups and United States experts have stated that Israel is responsible for the well-being of Palestinians in those areas. Israel says that under the interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s, it is not responsible for the Palestinians and in no way has it asked for help.
Gantz’s office said early Sunday the broadcast had been approved. There were no further details as to when this would happen. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
Israel is one of the world leaders in vaccinating its population after signing procurement agreements with international drug giants Pfizer and Moderna. The Ministry of Health says that nearly a third of the 9.3 million people in Israel received the first dose of the vaccine, while about 1.7 million people received both doses.
The campaign includes Israel’s Arab citizens and Palestinians living in annexed East Jerusalem. Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority’s government and Palestinians living under Hamas rule in Gaza are not included.
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The Palestinian Authority has tried to get doses through a WHO program called COVAX. However, the program to get vaccines for the countries needed has been slow to gain acceptance.
The dispute reflects global inequality in access to vaccines, as rich countries soak up the lion’s share of the doses and poorer countries lag even further in tackling public health and the economic impact of the pandemic. It has also emerged as another focal point in the decades-long Middle East conflict, despite the virus wreaking havoc on both sides.