Wed | Dec 1, 2021

Israel celebrates five millionth coronavirus vaccination

Published:Wednesday | March 10, 2021 | 12:23 AM
A Palestinian labourer who works in Israel receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre on Monday.
A Palestinian labourer who works in Israel receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre on Monday.

TEL AVIV (AP):

Israel’s leaders Monday celebrated the country’s five millionth coronavirus vaccination on the same day the government began vaccinating Palestinian labourers who work in the country. The time lag has drawn international criticism and highlighted global disparities.

There was no indication the two events were coordinated, but their split-screen quality offered a stark contrast between Israel’s world-leading vaccination blitz and the plight of five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Progress in places like Israel, the United States and Britain has heightened concerns among human rights advocates of driving a wider gap between wealthy countries and those that can’t afford pricey vaccination programmes.

Until Monday, the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, had received enough doses for only 6,000 people.

Israel has inoculated more than half its population of 9.3 million and pushed ahead Monday with the reopening of more of its economy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing re-election this month, promised to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of April, which he said would mean “we are out of the corona crisis”.

He appeared at a press conference in Tel Aviv with Janet Lavi-Azulay, an Israeli woman who became the five millionth person in Israel to be vaccinated. In all, Israel has vaccinated roughly 80 per cent of its adult population, giving decision-makers enough confidence to begin reopening stores, restaurants, health clubs and music clubs in recent days. Many of these amenities are available only to those who can prove they have been vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

About 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast, Anwar Muhammad Awarin got his jab and showed a text on his cell phone certifying the inoculation. For him and other Palestinian workers, it was less about celebrating and more about survival.

“I got the vaccine so I can work,” said Awarin, who received his inoculation at the Meitar checkpoint in the West Bank. “If you don’t get the vaccine, you don’t get the permit. So, I got the permit and my health as well.”

According to COGAT, the Israeli defence agency that orchestrated the vaccine campaign, the workers are not required to be vaccinated in order to keep their entry permits at the current time. But many labourers said their Israeli employers have pressured them to be vaccinated, and there were widespread concerns they could lose their jobs if they do not get inoculated.

Awarin was one of some 6,000 Palestinian labourers who received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine from paramedics from the Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom.

The vaccination drive was postponed by one day. More vaccination sites for Palestinian workers were expected to open this week.

About 100,000 Palestinian labourers from the West Bank work in Israel and its settlements, which are widely seen internationally as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Israel has won international plaudits for moving quickly to vaccinate its population. But it has come under criticism from UN officials, human rights groups and medical experts for not sharing more of its stockpile with the Palestinians.

Human rights groups and many Palestinians say that as an occupying power, Israel is responsible for providing vaccines to the Palestinians. Israel says that under interim peace accords reached in the 1990s, it does not have any such obligation.

Israeli officials have said the priority is vaccinating Israel’s own population first, while the Palestinian Authority has said it will obtain its own vaccines through the World Health Organization and other sources. Israel has vaccinated its own Arab population.