Israel has denied Palestinians access to the vaccine after it rebuffed a World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccine request last week for the Palestinian health workforce as an immediate priority target group, citing shortages at home. Palestinians were deprived of the vaccine as Israel prioritised only Israeli settlers.
While in late December, the Public Security Minister Amir Ohana blatantly instructed prison officials to stop vaccinating Palestinian inmates against Covid-19 until further notice, and to only vaccinate prison staff.
Israel is being hailed at home for breaking the record for the rapid inoculation programme by vaccinating more of its population against Covid-19 than any other country in a very short time, but it only vaccinates Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank, in addition to Palestinians who are residents of East Jerusalem.
Another reason for Israel being the second fastest nation to distribute the vaccine, with inoculation stations open every day, including on the Sabbath, is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign for reelection on 23 March, which is centred on handling the virus crisis in an attempt to whitewash the economic hardship that occurred during the pandemic and enhance the premier’s image that was tarnished by a number of corruption trials.
This explains why the Israeli government has invested in the vaccine deals by purchasing doses at higher price than other countries to provide the vaccine to its population of roughly nine million, as it purchased at $62 instead of $19.50 per dose, according to Israeli officials speaking to the public broadcaster Kan but staying anonymous. Israeli Finance Minister Israel Katz said the higher price was necessary considering Israel was competing with much larger countries.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu has already hinted that his political influence and friendship with Pfizer’s CEO facilitated obtaining a cache of the vaccine before many countries.
Despite other countries, including the US, having administered more doses, none has vaccinated a larger percentage of its population.
On the other side, the West Bank and Gaza depend on aid to survive and have a weak health and logistical infrastructure, as the Palestinian economy was hit hard during the coronavirus lockdown. They have therefore asked others, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the European Union, for assistance. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is speaking to some vaccine developers directly, but the affordability remains questionable.
One more issue is that Palestine can’t manage the logistics of storing the vaccine as the Gaza Strip currently receives about eight hours of electricity per day. In addition, any vaccine provider must have Israel’s permission before allowing the vaccine in Palestinian territories.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Aimee Shalan, chief executive officer of Medical Aid for Palestinians believes the Israeli occupation and its effects on Palestine’s shrinking economy is the reason behind the vaccine crisis today. “The Palestinian healthcare system is facing a severe financial crisis that is a result of Israel’s more than 50 years of occupation as well as 13 years of illegal blockade in Gaza. It is therefore imperative that Israel should ensure that Palestinians have access to coronavirus vaccines of the same quality it is providing to its own citizens.”
Doubting the traditional donors’ capacity to provide assistance to Palestinians under such a crisis, Yara Asi, a policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank, and a scholar at the Department of Health Management and Informatics University of Central Florida, told the Weekly: “The situation for Palestinians is already quite poor. Further, international donors who usually support Palestinian social services are stretched to the limit because so many nations need help at this time. Two more months without vaccines,” she warned, “will be two more months of strain on Palestinian healthcare, excess death and economic fallout.”