Lebanon reserving nearly two million coronavirus vaccines

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Monday his country has reserved nearly two million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to fight the coronavirus, an amount that covers up to 20 per cent of Lebanese.

Hamad said in a news conference his government has been negotiating with the company to acquire the vaccines and that they are expected to be in Lebanon by February.

Lebanon is reeling from a historic economic crisis that has left the highly indebted government short on cash and foreign currency. Foreign donors and supporters have refrained from bankrolling the government deficit demanding major reforms, which have failed to materialise because of political jockeying among the country’s multiple power centers and sectarian groups.

Assem Araji, the lawmaker who heads the parliamentary health committee, said the deal being negotiated is for USD18 a dose, a price that takes into consideration Lebanon’s economic troubles. The USD27 million deal would secure 1.5 million vaccines while the country negotiates to receive closer to two million.

Araji told The Associated Press the government is to pay a USD4 million deposit at signing. It hopes to cover the rest with a World Bank loan that has been diverted to cover expenses related to the pandemic.

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan. PHOTO: AP

Lebanon has also signed up for another 1.5 million vaccines with COVAX, the World Health Organization (WHO)-led partnership with humanitarian organisations that aims to provide vaccines for up to 20 per cent of the population of poor countries hit hard by the pandemic.

Lebanon has deposited USD4.3 million to secure the COVAX vaccines, Araji said.

Both vaccines would be offered for free in Lebanon. Commercially, hospitals and pharmacies can provide their own vaccines, Araji said.

Lebanon has a population of nearly six million, including over one million Syrian refugees. Araji said United Nations (UN) agencies would cover the refugee population.

The country has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks that has driven the number of reported infections to over 170,000 and more than 1,300 deaths. Lebanon’s health sector is also under strain amid the economic crunch and following this summer’s massive explosion in Beirut that temporarily knocked a number of hospitals out of service.