An Israeli government official with knowledge of the transfer told Global News the doses were originally purchased for Israelis, but have been donated to Palestinian medical teams in Gaza and West Bank.
The source added Israel was the first nation to deliver vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority, which will be used to inoculate health-care professionals.
The news comes two weeks after the United Nations criticized the Israeli government for not extending its vaccination campaign to the 4.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, calling it “morally and legally” unacceptable in an online statement.
The UN noted Israel had offered Palestinians with resident status in occupied East Jerusalem access to the vaccines.
Israeli government sources say there are many in Israel, including those among the country’s government who argue that vaccinating Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank is in Israel’s interest to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
However, there is also an acknowledgement that an Israeli-sponsored initiative to vaccinate Palestinians could cause political rifts as long as there are Israeli citizens who have not yet been vaccinated.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the UN said more than 160,000 people living in the Palestinian Authority have tested positive for the virus, while more than 1,700 have died after falling ill.
On Jan. 14, two UN Special Rapporteurs urged Israel to share its vaccines in a publicly available report that concluded COVID-19 vaccines ordered separately by the Palestinian Authority “may not be delivered to the West Bank and Gaza en masse for many weeks.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging the West Bank and Gaza in recent months, and has fractured an already badly under-resourced Palestinian health care system,” the report read.
“We are particularly concerned about the deteriorating health situation in Gaza, which suffers from a 13-year-old blockade, serious water and electricity shortages, and endemic poverty and unemployment.”
Israel leads the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, inoculating almost 15 per cent of the country’s 9.3-million population in about two weeks.
The country’s health ministry has agreed to share weekly data updates with Pfizer, in the hopes of determining “whether herd immunity is achieved after reaching a certain percentage of vaccination coverage.”
“While this project is conducted in Israel, the insights gained will be applicable around the world and we anticipate will allow governments to maximize the public health impact of their vaccination campaigns,” BioNTech said in a statement Jan. 18.
“This will help us understand whether a potential decrease in cases and deaths can be attributed solely to direct vaccine protection or to both direct and indirect (or ‘herd’) protection.”