With infections surging, COVID-19 has exacerbated the Palestinian enclave’s already dire living conditions in 2020.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has started COVID vaccination in the occupied West Bank after receiving 2,000 doses from Israel, Palestinian officials said.
The Moderna vaccines are the first batch of the promised 5,000 shots to be delivered by Israel to inoculate medical workers.
In recent weeks, Israel has faced mounting global pressure, including from the United Nations, to help Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip to gain access to vaccines.
“We started today,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said on Tuesday, adding that a supply of doses would be sent to Gaza, an Israeli-blockaded territory controlled by the Palestinian group Hamas, so that inoculation of front-line workers could begin in the enclave.
“We have given highest priority to health personnel … and those working in intensive care units,” she said in a video distributed by Palestinian television.
The PA has previously said it signed contracts with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V.
Last month, it said it had arranged to procure enough vaccines to cover 70 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians hope to acquire tens of thousands more doses in the coming weeks through a World Health Organization (WHO) programme.
Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah in the West Bank, said the 5,000 vaccine shots that Palestinians will get is “not enough to cover a fraction of what Palestinians need”.
“The Health Ministry is saying there are more than 12,000 front-line workers in the health sector dealing with COVID patients in ICUs and labs and they are all in urgent need,” she said.
“There are also five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip and they’ve had no access to a vaccine until now.”
The WHO has expressed concern about the inequity between Israel, which is leading one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Rights groups say Israel has the obligation as an occupying power to vaccinate Palestinians. Israel denies having such a responsibility, and says its priority is its own citizens.