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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

First Covid-19 vaccines land in Lebanon

The country will begin a nationwide inoculation campaign on Sunday amid surge in cases

Lebanon received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Saturday afternoon.

A plane carrying 28,500 Pfizer-BioNTech shots landed in Beirut, with nationwide inoculations set to begin on Sunday.

“Starting vaccinations is very important, especially as we have a lot of daily cases and new deaths every day,” Assem Araji, head of the Public Health Parliament Committee, told The National.

“The ICUs in Lebanon are full of Covid-19 patients in critical condition.”

Lebanon has been battling a surge in Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the year after a holiday period with nearly no restrictions.

The number of deaths in January alone surpassed those for the whole of 2020.

A strict 25-day lockdown was imposed last month and the country is now slowly opening up.

Experts and government officials believe the vaccination campaign will help to bring coronavirus cases down and save lives, although the take-up is low.

Fewer than half a million people have signed up for the vaccine so far in a country of about six million people. For the vaccine to have a nationwide effect, a large part of the population must get inoculated.

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“I am not worried about this,” Mr Araji told The National. “Once we begin inoculations, people will feel more comfortable as they see there are no major side effects to the vaccine and they will ask for it.”

Lebanese Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan was at the airport when the first batch of vaccines arrived.

He said he hoped to persuade “the Prime Minister” to have the shot on Sunday to encourage Lebanese to be immunised.

He did not specify whether he was referring to prime minister-designate Saad Hariri or caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab.

“We are trying to convince one prominent politician to participate tomorrow because it will have a positive effect nationwide,” Mr Hassan said.

He faced a backlash earlier this year after he said the president, the speaker and the prime minister would be the first to have the coronavirus shot when it arrived in Lebanon.

The country’s political class has come under fire since the onset of a mass protest movement in October 2019.

The ongoing economic crisis, a deadly explosion at the Beirut port last year and the recent surge in Covid-19 cases compounded popular distrust of the Lebanese leadership.

Medical experts anticipate inoculation will have a positive outcome on at least one of Lebanon’s crises.

Members of Lebanese security forces stand next to a truck transporting boxes of the first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine upon arrival to the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the capital Beirut, on February 13, 2021. Lebanon received its first vaccines against the coronavirus, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country. / AFP / ANWAR AMRO
Lebanese security forces stand next to a truck transporting the first shipment of the Covid-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. AFP

Dr Eid Azar, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Beirut’s Saint-Georges Hospital aims to vaccinate 700 people there daily beginning tomorrow.

“Vaccines are the biggest hope we have, but I don’t expect a magic effect,” he told The National.

Mass inoculation will tamper the intensity of the disease and lower the number of cases, Mr Azar says, but the effects will take “at least a couple of months” to manifest.

We are hoping to vaccinate as many people as we can.

Updated: February 15, 2021 10:56 AM


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