March 8, 2021

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Lebanese lawmakers violate coronavirus vaccine rollout plan, World Bank says

By Sarah Dadouch and Nader Durgham

BEIRUT — The head of Lebanon’s National Committee for the Coronavirus Vaccine threatened to resign from his post on Tuesday after lawmakers were vaccinated without the committee’s approval.

During a news conference, Abdul Rahman Bizri, the head of the committee, said the legislators were vaccinated in parliament, which he noted was a clear violation of the national plan, which requires people to get vaccinated at predetermined centers. He emphasized that the plan’s rollout requires dispensing with favoritism.

“Since the plan began until now, we’ve noticed a few things, which are sometimes isolated [incidents],” he said. “But today I believe there was a breach we cannot stay silent on.”

On Tuesday, Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank director for the Middle Eastern region that includes Lebanon, confirmed the violation to The Washington Post. He added that the World Bank will issue a notice asking the government to explain itself and tell the World Bank why it should not withdraw from the agreement.

Health-care workers, elderly and immunocompromised individuals were given priority for the vaccine, according to a national deployment and vaccination plan adopted last month by the Ministry of Public Health and supported by the World Bank. “We will MONITOR fair and transparent distribution to PRIORITY groups,” Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank’s regional vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, wrote in a tweet then.

The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Lebanon on Feb. 13, under World Bank watch. The first small batch of 28,000 vaccine doses, and the 31,000 that followed on Sunday, are part of a World Bank-financed project that aims to vaccinate 2 million people in Lebanon.