Lebanon kicks off vaccinations against Covid

Beirut (Lebanon) (AFP) –


Lebanon Sunday gave its first Covid-19 vaccine dose to a doctor, as it started an inoculation drive it hopes will keep the pandemic in check amid deepening economic crisis.

Mahmoud Hassoun, the head of the intensive care unit at the key Rafik Hariri Hospital battling coronavirus, was the first person to get the jab, an AFP correspondent said.

"Hopefully this will be the start of the end of this plague in the country," Hassoun told AFP

He received a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a day after the very first 28,500 doses landed at Beirut's airport.

Caretaker premier Hassan Diab visited the Beirut hospital and praised the hard work of healthcare workers, but said he would wait his turn to be vaccinated.

"Today is not my turn," said the 61-year-old premier.

"The priority is for the health sector, which has... made great sacrifices, and to whom we must give all possible protection so they can carry out their mission and protect people," he said.

Healthcare workers at three Beirut hospitals in total were to receive their first shot on Sunday, with people over 75 next in line.

The World Bank has allocated $34 million to inoculate two million of Lebanon's six million inhabitants.

Lebanon has been under lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients for lack of beds.

The pandemic has compounded the woes of Lebanese, already struggling with the country's worst economic crisis in decades and reeling from a devastating explosion at Beirut's port last summer that killed more than 200 people.

Firass Abiad, the head of the Rafik Hariri Hospital, said Saturday that a first jab was "the best gift one can ask for on Valentine's Day".

Some 450,000 people have signed up to be vaccinated in Lebanon including 45,000 aged over 75 and 17,500 staff from the health sector, caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan has said.

He has promised all residents would be vaccinated, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in the country.

But many in Lebanon are still hesitant to get the jab.

Of 500 people surveyed by private think-tank Information International, 31 percent said they would get vaccinated, 38 percent said they would rather not and another 31 percent were undecided.

Lebanon has ordered around six million vaccine doses in total, including two million from Pfizer/BioNTech and another 2.7 million via the international Covax distribution programme.

The authorities say 336,992 people have caught coronavirus since February 2020, of whom 3,961 have died.