Gaza's First Shipment of COVID Vaccine Is Enough for Just 0.05 Percent of Population

The Gaza Strip received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, the Palestinian health ministry announced Wednesday, just enough to cover 0.05 percent of its population.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) said it had delivered 2,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to the densely populated coastal enclave. Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported the Israeli government allowed the PA to send the vaccines through the Beitunia crossing from the occupied West Bank's Ramallah to the blockaded Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Islamist Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Sputnik V is a two dose vaccine, meaning only 1,000 vaccines will be available to the Gaza Strip's approximate population of 2 million. In a statement, Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the vaccines were destined for frontline health care staff working in emergency departments and intensive care units treating coronavirus patients.

On Tuesday, the health ministry said Israeli authorities had prevented the vaccines' entry into the Gaza Strip, calling the move "incompatible with all international customs, laws and agreements."

Wednesday's statement did not clarify the circumstances in which the vaccine shipment was permitted to reach the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this month, the ministry said it had received 10,000 doses of the Russian vaccine, which is sufficient to fully vaccinate 5,000 people.

Newsweek has contacted Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the PA's health ministry for comment.

Israel, which carried out one of the fastest inoculation campaigns in the world, faced criticism for not extending its efforts to Gaza and West Bank, home to roughly 5 million Palestinians. Rights groups said Israel, as an occupying power, has an obligation to provide vaccines to the Palestinians.

Following the backlash, Israel said it had earmarked several thousand Moderna vaccine doses for the Palestinians, according to news reports. Earlier this month, the PA's health ministry announced it had received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine without disclosing their source. The PA is also set to receive vaccines through COVAX, a United Nations-backed initiative aimed at equitably distributing vaccines.

The West Bank recorded 115,769 coronavirus cases and nearly 1,400 deaths, while the Gaza Strip reported 53,718 cases and 538 deaths.

The Sputnik V vaccine initially elicited criticism, as Moscow deployed it amid international uncertainty over its efficacy. However, a study published earlier this month by medical journal The Lancet concluded the vaccine to be safe and estimated its efficacy at 91.6 percent.

According to Sputnik V's website, the vaccine has been approved for use in 28 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Mexico, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Sputnik V vaccine doses arrive in Gaza
Palestinian health workers unload the first arriving shipment of doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 coronavirus disease, on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing south of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 17, 2021. An initial batch of coronavirus vaccines, enough to fully innoculate 1,000 people, arrived in Gaza after Israel had blocked the shipment earlier in the week. SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images