Lebanon Kicks Off Its COVID-19 Inoculation Drive
By Staff, Agencies
Lebanon administered its first COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of a medical doctor as the country launched its inoculation drive as a key step to defeat the deadly virus.
The head of the critical care unit at Rafik Hariri University hospital, Dr. Mahmoud Hassoun, was the first person to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jab under the watchful eyes of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan.
Mahmoud Hassoun, the head of the intensive care unit at the key Rafik Hariri Hospital battling coronavirus, was the first person to get the jab, an AFP correspondent said.
"Hopefully this will be the start of the end of this plague in the country," Hassoun said.
An elderly actor, 92-year-old Salah Tizani, better known as Abu Salim, was next to receive the vaccine as the first stage of the campaign focuses on health care workers and people over 75.
"I urge people not to be late to register [for the vaccine] and to get vaccinated when it's their turn," Tizani told reporters. Health experts have expressed concern at the slow pace of registration with one expert saying the public were showing a sign of "vaccination hesitancy."
For his part, Diab told reporters at the hospital: "I will not be receiving the vaccine today, for today is not my turn and the priority is for the medical sector that has done its duty and presented big sacrifices."
Diab later told a ceremony at his headquarters marking the launch of the campaign: "Lebanon is moving from the fear stage to the protection stage through vaccination, thus protecting our society and our nation, in preparation for gradually returning to normalcy."
In its first operation funding the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the World Bank reallocated $34 million from an existing health project in Lebanon to help launch the vaccination program.
"We call upon everyone in Lebanon to register through the dedicated platform and await their turn, regardless of their job rank or political affiliation," Ferid Belhaj, its regional vice president, told the ceremony. "Credibility and transparency are the two fundamental elements in all World Bank financed programs and projects around the world, without any exceptions. And let me say it very clearly: 'There will be no wasta.'"
He said the World Bank will continue to monitor the implementation of the vaccination campaign. "The World Bank, in consultation with the relevant UN partners, established a joint international monitoring committee to follow-up on the roll-out of the vaccination, and to determine the necessary measures to enhance the quality of the campaign during the entire period of implementation," he added.
Despite the fanfare, Lebanon is behind most regional countries in starting vaccinations, partly due to its severe financial crises and lack of laws allowing the emergency use of medications and vaccines. Lebanon has so far confirmed nearly 4,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 330,000 infections.
The first shipment of around 28,500 vaccines had arrived in Lebanon Saturday evening. More weekly shipments from several vaccine makers are expected in coming months as authorities hope to inoculate 80 percent of the country's estimated 6 million population by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
Some 450,000 people have signed up to be vaccinated in Lebanon including 45,000 aged over 75 and 17,500 staff from the health sector, Hasan has said. He has promised all residents would be vaccinated, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in the country.
Lebanon has been under a 24-hour curfew for a month, although the government began lifting some restrictions this week.