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First vaccine doses sent to Gaza Strip

First vaccine doses sent to Gaza Strip
© THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

The first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday following international criticism of Israel's government regarding how much access Palestinians have had to the vaccine.

Palestinian authorities told The Associated Press that 2,000 doses of the vaccine had arrived in the Gaza Strip, far short of the total needed to vaccinate the roughly 2 million Palestinians living there and just enough to vaccinate some high-risk hospital patients and front-line medical workers.

“The amount is very small and not enough to cover all 12,000 medical workers,” Ashraf al-Qedra of the Gaza Health Ministry told the AP. “We think it’s better to first inoculate vulnerable patients, such as organ transplant and dialysis patients."

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More than 53,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip since the pandemic began, with 538 deaths from the disease reported. For months, Israel's government has received both praise over the speed of its own vaccine rollout, which is the fastest per capita of any nation, and criticism over the level of access Palestinians living in both Israeli and the Palestinian territories have to the vaccine.

The Israeli vaccination program “demonstrates the brutal ethnic discrimination Israel practices in the West Bank, where Israeli setters are all being rapidly vaccinated while the Palestinians living next to them are largely on their own," Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute told CNBC in early February.

“The fact that Palestinians also have responsibilities does not negate the Israeli role. Ultimately, as the occupying powers, they are responsible for the provision, for the welfare of the occupied population,” added the Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir.

More than 74 out of every 100 people in Israel have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data collected by the BBC. Palestinian officials say they expect to receive another 277,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization-led COVAX effort, which distributes vaccines to less developed nations, but will likely remain far short of the total needed to vaccinate the population of Gaza and the West Bank.