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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Lebanon's health workers cautiously optimistic as Covid-19 vaccination campaign begins

The vaccination drive offers a glimmer of hope amid a national crisis

At the vulnerable age of 93, popular Lebanese actor Salah Tizany was the perfect person to kick off the country's coronavirus inoculation campaign.

Holding his cane with one hand and waving his index with the other, he said on Sunday at the public Rafik Hariri University Hospital that he was proud to be “number one”.

“I am very happy to be the first person to take the vaccine,” he told The National. “I want to encourage people who are scared to take the shot.”

Lebanon rolled out the vaccination drive nearly one year to the day after the country recorded its first Covid-19 case.

A plane landed in Beirut on Saturday carrying 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to arrive in the country.

The launch of the inoculation campaign gave Lebanese hope that they might eventually return to normal life. Lebanon witnessed a surge in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths since the beginning of the year after a nearly restrictions-free holiday period in December

Dr Oussayma Eldbouni told The National she was “very excited” to get vaccinated.

“I just took the vaccine now. I am feeling great,” she said, urging others to register online for the shot.

Politicians, however, have shied away from publicly taking the jab. Former minister Wiam Wahab received backlash online after he announced he had received the vaccine in Dubai last month, before the shot was made available in Lebanon.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Health Minister Hamad Hassan inspected the Covid-19 vaccination facility at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital on Sunday but did not get inoculated. The health minister himself administered several jabs to medical staff at Beirut’s biggest government hospital.

Mr Diab said he would not be taking the vaccine to give priority to medical staff. “You come before us,” he told them at the vaccination centre.

Local media reported this week that Lebanese politicians had pressured the World Bank, which is financing the country’s vaccination effort, to gain premium access to some of the shots.

The news sparked anger among Lebanese at a time when trust in the political class is at an all-time low. The country is reeling from the triple effects of a Covid-19 wave, a deadly blast that struck the capital last August and an ongoing economic crisis. Lebanon has been run by a caretaker government for the past six months.

Vaccine hopes

Medical staff believe the vaccination programme may be the solution to at least one of Lebanon’s many crises. They told The National they were happy to finally get the shot and wished to encourage as many people as possible to register online for the vaccine.

Zeinab El Mawloud, chief internal medicine resident at the Rafik Hariri hospital, said that although the vaccine arrived late to Lebanon compared with other countries, she was grateful the government managed to secure the shots.

“If you take the shot, whatever side effects may occur are likely to be much less grave than the consequences of getting coronavirus,” she told The National.

“I hope a large number of the population takes the vaccine so that we can go back to normal life.”

Updated: February 15, 2021 10:02 PM

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