The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip began its coronavirus vaccination drive on Monday following the arrival of the first vaccines to the blockaded coastal area.
Former health ministers and several medical workers were inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V jabs in front of dozens of cameras. More medical workers and patients with chronic diseases are to start receiving injections on Tuesday.
The inoculation drive “will result in more immunity among the people and further curb the spread of the pandemic,” said Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra.
The area has received just 22,000 doses of vaccines, a tiny fraction of what is needed to immunize the Strip’s 2 million people, including some 1.4 million people over age 18.
UN officials and human rights groups have voiced concerns over the disparities and said that Israel, which has already inoculated half its population, has an obligation to help the Palestinians.
Israel says that under interim peace accords, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which has on multiple occasions said it is obtaining its own vaccine, is responsible. Despite the criticism from the international community, no other country besides Russia so far donated vaccines to the Palestinian territories. Israel has vaccinated its own Arab population.
The Palestinian Authority, however, has struggled to secure vaccines, obtaining just 2,000 doses from Israel for West Bank medical workers and an additional 10,000 doses from Russia. Last week, it transferred 2,000 of the Russian vaccines to Gaza.
On Sunday, Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of President Mahmoud Abbas, organized a shipment of 20,000 Russian vaccines to Gaza from the United Arab Emirates in a move apparently aimed at embarrassing the Palestinian leader ahead of elections in May.
Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control of the area in 2007 from Abbas’ forces. Al-Qedra, the Health Ministry spokesman, said he expected more vaccines to arrive in Gaza in the coming days.
Gaza’s health authorities have reported more than 54,000 coronavirus infections and 543 deaths.