Covid-19: Palestine first in Middle East to register for Russian vaccine, says wealth fund

A Palestinian health worker collects random swab samples from people to test for the coronavirus in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP)

Middle East Eye  /  January 11, 2021

With delivery expected ‘within a month’, Russia’s Sputnik V will be the first shipment of coronavirus vaccine for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian health ministry has approved the main Russian vaccine against Covid-19, known as Sputnik V, for domestic use, making it “the first country in the Middle East” to do so, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said on Monday.

In a statement, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) confirmed that the Palestinians had registered for the vaccine “under the emergency use authorisation procedure without additional clinical trials in the country”, following the footsteps of local regulators in Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia and Serbia. 

“The Sputnik V vaccine’s high quality and efficacy are stimulating growing interest from more and more countries. This translates into a wider geography of its registration, delivery and production.

“We are happy that on top of Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America Sputnik V will now also be present in the Middle East,” said the statement.

The delivery of Sputnik V to Palestine is planned for the first quarter of 2021, with the first shipment expected to arrive “within a month”, according to RDIF, which is responsible for marketing the vaccine outside of Russia.

RDIF did not disclose how many doses would be shipped to the Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals with Israel – but said the supplies would be facilitated by manufacturing partners in India, China, South Korea and elsewhere.

Russian authorities have said that any Sputnik V export deals would involve only doses produced by such manufacturing partners abroad, with Russian-made vaccines primarily used to meet domestic needs.

Disparity in vaccine response

While Israel has become the world leader in vaccinations per capita, Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip have yet to obtain their first supplies.

If all goes as planned, Sputnik V will be the first Covid-19 vaccine to arrive for the Palestinians.

And then in March, Palestine expects to receive its initial Covid-19 vaccine doses from British drug maker AstraZeneca, the Palestinian Authority said on Sunday, accusing Israel of shirking a duty to ensure vaccines are available in occupied territory.

Israel has boasted that it is surpassing other nations with its vaccination campaign against the Covid-19 virus, with more than 12 percent of its population receiving the first of two jabs since December.

The country is seeking to be the first in the world to succeed in getting rid of Covid-19, paying a much higher price to gain priority access to the vaccine – as reports have indicated that Israel paid $62 per dose, while its cost in the United States does not exceed $20.

But the virus continues to claim high numbers of infections in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip. As of Wednesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded a total of over 162,000 cases in the occupied territories, including 1,663 deaths.

Israel has been criticised by human rights organisations for shirking its responsibilities as an occupying power – as defined under international law – by not only failing to deliver vaccines to the five million Palestinians living in the occupied territories, but also ignoring the risks to the lives of Palestinian prisoners.