WHO: 1% vaccinated for coronavirus in Middle East

UN health authority says there has been 'unequal distribution of the vaccine' globally

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The World Health Organisation said on Monday that only about 1 per cent of the Middle East region's population had received a first coronavirus vaccine shot.

The UN body released its data for what it calls the Eastern Mediterranean Region of nearly 600 million people, stretching from Morocco to Pakistan but excluding Israel.

It includes the UAE, which is the country with the second most vaccinations per capita in the world and has assisted other countries in the region.

"So far, more than 6.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been given to people in 12 countries," said Ahmed Al Mandhari, the WHO's regional chief based in Cairo.

The WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region comprises 21 countries and is home to about 583 million people.

But while it includes the Palestinian Territories, it does not include Israel, the country in the region with the biggest mass vaccination campaign.

Israel reports that 3.8 million people have received a first dose, while 2.4 million have received a second.

Mr Al Mandhari vaccines distributed through the Covax equal access programme are due to reach Tunisia and the Palestinians in coming weeks.

Tunisia is expected to receive about 37,000 doses, while 94,000 doses will go to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said, without specifying the makers.

The other countries in WHO's region are due to receive "an estimated 46 million to 56 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine during the first half of this year", he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than six million confirmed cases of the virus across the WHO region, including 140,000 deaths, Mr Al Mandhari said.

Thirteen countries are affected by variants of the coronavirus, he said.

Mr Al Mandhari also warned of the "unequal distribution of the vaccine" globally, and said it was "difficult to predict" how many vaccines were available.

"A number of countries in the region have entered into bilateral agreements with manufacturers," he said.

But he predicted that "the pace of these agreements will accelerate".

Lebanon was the latest country to launch its vaccination drive on Sunday.

More than 89 per cent of Lebanon's Covid-19 intensive care beds were filled as of Friday.

The country had a surge in cases after the December holidays.