Lebanese pensioner wins court case to get Covid vaccine after queue-jump scandal

Claims that members of parliament were vaccinated before people in priority groups

Men receive a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose during a coronavirus vaccination campaign at Lebanese American University Medical Center-Rizk Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
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A judge ordered Lebanon's Health Ministry to give a coronavirus vaccination to an 80-year-old man within 48 hours or be fined.

The judge said the ministry broke equal access rules by letting members of parliament jump the queue and receive vaccines before people such as George El Hajj, who is part of a priority group.

Lawyers said the lawsuit is a “reminder for politicians to be more respectful of human rights”.

Mr El Hajj is chronically ill and requires permanent medical care.

He had been waiting his turn to be vaccinated with others in priority groups since the first batch of Covid vaccines arrived in Lebanon on February 14, but has yet to receive an appointment.

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Like many others, his turn was pushed back as a result of favouritism in Lebanon's national vaccination programme.

His son, lawyer Fadi El Hajj, decided to file a suit to protect his father.

“When I saw my dad’s health condition and I heard about people being vaccinated outside the government platform, I couldn’t stay quiet,” Fadi El Hajj said.

He filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Health in the Court of Urgent Matters, where Judge Carla Chawah ruled in favour of the family, demanding that George El Hajj be vaccinated within 48 hours.

If the ministry fails to administer the vaccine to Mr El Hajj, it will be fined 10 million Lebanese pounds (about $6,600 at the official exchange rate) for each day of delay.

In her ruling, Ms Chawah said the state breached the national vaccine distribution plan by inoculating 11 members of parliament last week, several of whom were under 75 years of age.

By jumping the queue, the politicians broke “the principle of equality” and infringed on Mr El Hajj’s rights, the court ruling read.

The ministry on Thursday morning condemned the decision, describing it as illegal.

The ministry said there was “no breach of the concerned party’s rights as he will be vaccinated sooner or later”.

"We're all going to be vaccinated sooner or later," Fadi El Hajj told The National.

“But if it’s my right to get there sooner, why would I keep waiting while they take my spot?”

The ministry rejected the judge's ruling based on "the principle of separation of powers", especially as "it comes from a civil court rather than an administrative one".

Nizar Saghieh, a lawyer and founder of local NGO Legal Agenda, said the ministry’s rebuttal was alarming.

"They're misusing the principle of separation of powers," Mr Saghieh told The National.  "It exists to make administrations responsible and accountable in front of the judiciary.

“It means we can put an end to the abuse of power, not give them impunity.”

Mr Saghieh praised the judge for protecting the right of citizens to be vaccinated and said that politicians were given an advantage by being inoculated earlier.

“This is a lesson for them that people’s rights matter and that accountability is the way forward,” he said.