Lebanon begins Covid-19 vaccination drive
The head of the critical care unit at Rafik Hariri University hospital, Dr. Mahmoud Hassoun, was the first person in the country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech, observed by the caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan.
According to Lebanon's Daily Star, a 93-year-old actor called Salah Tizani but more famously known as Abu Salim, was next to receive the vaccine as the first stage of the campaign focuses on healthcare workers and people over 75.
"I urge people not to be late to register [for the vaccine] and to get vaccinated when its their turn," Tizani told reporters at the hospital.
Health experts have expressed concern at the slow pace of registration in Lebanon with one expert saying the public were showing a sign of "vaccination hesitancy", according to The Daily Star.
Vaccinations were also being administered at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, and Saint George Orthodox hospital, both located in the capital.
A plane containing the first 28,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived to Lebanon from Belgium on Saturday evening.
The shipment was the first to get to Lebanon after the World Bank reallocated $34 million from an existing health project in the country to help launch the vaccination programme.
"We will MONITOR fair and transparent distribution to PRIORITY groups," Ferid Belhaj, its regional vice president, wrote in a tweet Saturday on night.
When on the tarmac, caretaker health minister told reporters that: "It's a dream being realised today thanks to the support of our UN and international partners."
He also promised that: "The vaccine will reach all Lebanese citizens across the country", as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees and other residents.
Lebanon has been under strict lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients.
A gradual ease of coronavirus restrictions started on Monday 8, despite having recorded 315,340 coronavirus cases, including 3,495 deaths.
Late last month, the country saw several days of clashes in the impoverished northern city of Tripoli, with protesters angered by a lockdown they said was starving them.
The start of the vaccination drive would lead to some hope in the population, but the way it is going to be implemented still shows some "gaps", according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The US-based rights group cited particular concern around the transparency, accessibility, and misinformation surrounding the drive to vaccinate Lebanon's population.
"The government's stated commitment to an inclusive vaccination strategy is positive, but the real test will be translating the plan into action," said Aya Majzoub, Human Rights Watch's Lebanon researcher.
"It is critical for leaders to clearly communicate the government’s vaccination strategy, ensure that vaccine access is not determined by political connections or socio-economic status, and apply transparent, evidence-based distribution criteria equally to everyone in Lebanon," she added.
There is little information on how the private sector, which the government said will be allowed to import vaccines, will fit into the national program.
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