Lebanon News

Parliament passes law for emergency COVID-19 vaccine usage

Berri heads a Parliament session in Beirut, Jan. 15, 2021. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament Friday passed a law that will allow the emergency use of vaccines against coronavirus, bringing the country a step closer to the rollout phase.

Parliament convened for an emergency session Friday afternoon at the UNESCO Palace and passed the law that was a pre-requisite to cementing the deal with global pharmaceutical Pfizer to acquire their COVID-19 vaccine, which effectively places the responsibility for any side-effects from the vaccine on the Lebanese state.

The draft law guarantees a two-year warrant in Lebanon for emergency use of coronavirus vaccines that will cover all the vaccines used in the country, not just the Pfizer jab.

Lebanon will acquire about 2.1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the first shipment expected to arrive in mid-February that contains 60,000 doses.

However, questions about the logistics, such as storage, distribution and administration remain unclear.

The coronavirus vaccine drive will include 33 or 34 vaccination centers across the country.

Negotiations between the Lebanese government and Oxford AstraZeneca are also believed to be underway to secure a quantity of the British jab, according to a Health Ministry official.

The Lebanese state had signed a contract with COVAX to acquire coronavirus vaccines last year, for which caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab signed a decree to transfer funds from the state budget reserve to the Health Minstry to pay the second installment for the vaccines, a statement from his office said.

According to the statement, Lebanon has reserved 2.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from different international companies, in addition to the Pfizer jabs.

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan has made clear that the vaccine will be free of charge to citizens, with health workers, the elderly, vulnerable and public workers prioritized.

Lebanon has been facing an unpredented surge in virus cases since the New Year as restrictions were eased by authorities and many gatherings took place with no prevention measures in place. The country has since gone under a lockdown, the first one imposed on Jan. 7 and a much stricter one that includes an all-day curfew on Jan. 14 set to last for 11 days.

The small country of around 6 million people has been registering sky-high daily cases in the 4,000-5,000 range and sometimes exceeding that, with the local test positivity rate reaching 17 percent and record death rates registered as hospitals reach maximum patient intake capacity and people struggle to secure care for their loved ones.

 

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