TEL AVIV—Israel transferred the first batch of a Covid-19 vaccine to the Palestinians amid growing concerns over the disease’s spread in the neighboring West Bank and Gaza becoming a threat to the country.
The Defense Ministry on Monday supplied 2,000 doses of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine to the Palestinian Authority, which governs part of the West Bank, Israeli officials said. Israel has agreed to give a total of 5,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the Palestinians to inoculate front-line medical workers, they added.
The shipment was approved out of health concerns resulting from the mixing of Israeli and Palestinian populations, the officials said. A local committee of professional health advisers last week told the Israeli government that vaccinating the Palestinians is a “clear necessity” for Israel’s battle with the pandemic.
Israel two weeks ago had sent the Palestinian Authority 100 doses of a coronavirus vaccine for Palestinian health staff as a one-time humanitarian gesture, according to an Israeli security official.
Palestinian Authority officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Israel leads the world in vaccinating against Covid-19 in terms of percentage of the total population inoculated. It aims to vaccinate much of its population by March, but even if it succeeds, the coronavirus could still be a risk as long as it continues to spread in the West Bank and Gaza. Tens of thousands of Palestinians enter Israel and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank for work, mainly in the construction sector, every day.
The Palestinian territories—which are partially self-governed but whose borders are effectively controlled by the Israelis—hadn’t previously received substantial amounts of any vaccine.
The United Nations and human-rights organizations say that under the Geneva Conventions, Israel as the occupying power must provide vaccines to those living under its control. Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority has responsibility for its citizens’ health care, including procuring vaccines, under the terms of the 1990s Oslo Accords.
Israel might provide excess vaccines to the Palestinians once its population is inoculated, Israeli officials have previously said.
Israel—a wealthy country that boasts a technologically advanced health-care system—has administered the first shot of a recommended two-dose regimen to about a third of its roughly nine million population since beginning its program Dec. 20. It paid a premium for early shipments from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE and agreed to share data about their vaccine, from effectiveness to side effects. It also placed orders with other vaccine companies, including Moderna and AstraZeneca PLC.
The West Bank and Gaza, which depend on aid and have poor health and logistics infrastructure, are expecting the World Health Organization’s Covax program to provide vaccines for 60% of their combined population of about five million people. But only a portion of those will be free. Israel is contributing funds to the Covax program.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayeh said Monday that the authority would begin its own vaccination drive after the expected arrival of 50,000 vaccines from different sources, but mostly through Covax, in mid-February.
Mr. Shtayeh added that he expects vaccines ordered outside of the Covax program to arrive at the end of the month. Palestinian officials have been negotiating with AstraZeneca and Moderna for their vaccines, and trying to acquire the Russian Sputnik vaccine. Gaza officials said they expect the Palestinian Authority to share some of these doses with Hamas, an Islamist militant group that controls the strip but is considered by the U.S. and Israel to be a terrorist organization.
The Palestinian Authority has currently imposed a lockdown on areas it controls and on Monday extended the closure by another two weeks.
The Palestinian health ministry said 586 Palestinians were found positive for the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 11 people had died from the disease. There are a total of 54 patients hospitalized in critical condition. There have been a total of 159,433 Palestinian cases resulting in 1,840 deaths.
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