International 27/02/2021

Politicians in Lebanon get vaccinated first

Independent observers monitor vaccination campaign to avoid prioritizing leaders

3 min
A woman receiving the covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Beirut

BeirutThe vaccination campaign is a global challenge. But in Lebanon, in addition to fighting the coronavirus, political corruption must also be fought. The vaccination plan against covid-19 has just started and the scandals are multiplying day by day. First there was the mass vaccination of a dozen members of parliament, who without an appointment received the vaccine in the same hemicycle, where they had an unregistered vaccination site installed. The following day it emerged that the octogenarian President Michel Aoun, the first lady and a dozen members of his inner circle had been vaccinated at the presidential palace in Baabda without respecting the shifts.

Lebanon experienced a rapid rise in the coronavirus infection curve during the month of January, setting off alarms of an out-of-control pandemic that would bring hospitals to total collapse in an already bankrupt country. In order to stem the tide of contagion, the World Bank decided to allocate $34 million to the cedar country to buy 3 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to inoculate some 2 million Lebanese. However, before granting the credit, the supranational organization made it a requirement that the vaccination plan be transparent and equitable. It was asking too much.

Red Cross observers

Aware of the ills of Lebanese politicians, the World Bank was cautious and signed a cooperation agreement with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to organize a team of independent observers to monitor the vaccination campaign. The IFRC's mission is to monitor the covid-19 vaccine supply chain, which includes, among other things, storing and maintaining stocks at the correct temperature, providing services at registered vaccination centres, and checking daily registration and allocation numbers to ensure that no one misses their turn.

Health professionals lining up to receive the covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Beirut

However, the observer team has come up against the corrupt Lebanese political system. In the wake of the clear breach of trust, the World Bank issued a stark warning on Wednesday to remind the country's authorities that if they broke the pact, the loan would be suspended and there would be no vaccines for Lebanon. The spotlight was focused on IFRC spokeswoman Sara Sidani, who had to play the role of justifying her organization to the media. Speaking to ARA, she said that they were not informed by the Ministry of Health that a mobile medical team had gone to the presidential palace to vaccinate the president and his family. Sidani was also unaware that a vaccination site had been set up at the parliament to immunize the lordships.

The IFRC spokeswoman tells ARA that the mission, the first of its kind in the world, is being formed and about 30 observers have so far been recruited. "As the number of vaccination centres increases with the arrival of new batches of vaccines, a larger number of observers will be needed to reach all the hospitals in the country", she says.

Refugees are forgotten

Lebanon has so far received 60,000 vaccines from Pfizer, but the process is going very slowly. "We are concerned about the limited amount of vaccines that have arrived in the country. Our vaccination centre has the capacity to vaccinate 1,000 people a day, but only half the doses are reaching us. Less than 40 per cent of health workers have been vaccinated", complains Dr. Eid Azhar, director of epidemiology at Saint George's Hospital in Beirut. "We have to be prepared for a second wave of coronavirus. Our elderly people are dying the most", he warns.

Another weak point in the vaccination plan is the forgotten refugee population. The health authorities promised fairness in distributing the vaccines but the ratio between refugees and Lebanese citizens is very unequal. "If there is no transparency in the campaign, refugees could be left behind", warns Zeina Khalil, a spokeswoman for the World Bank.