BEIRUT (AP) – The World Bank on Tuesday threatened to suspend funding for a coronavirus vaccine in Lebanon as it investigated suspicious favorites amid allegations that legislators were inoculated into parliament without prior approval.
A senior Lebanese official overseeing the rollout of the vaccine called it “insulting” and lashed out at Lebanese on social media for mistrust of their notoriously corrupt politicians.
The World Bank is a major financier of Lebanon’s coronavirus campaign and has approved 34 34 million to vaccinate 2 million people. Postponement of its aid will have a serious impact on the cash-strapped government, which is going through an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and is dependent on foreign aid.
The vaccination campaign began on 14 February and Lebanon has so far received about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer-Bioentech vaccine.
The World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed an agreement for independent oversight of the coronavirus vaccination campaign in Lebanon. Decades of corruption and mismanagement have pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy and collapse.
“There were a lot of violations at the vaccination centers,” said Sharaf Abu Sharaf, president of the Lebanese Order Phys Physicians. He said the violation included vaccinating people who were not registered or not included in the first phase of the campaign.
The Lebanese had hoped the vaccine would get rid of corruption and violations, but news of the vaccination as a political group by legislators in the building used by the legislature caused an urgent outcry among the country’s population on Monday.
Abdul Rahman Bizari, who heads the committee overseeing the vaccination campaign, had planned to resign in protest on Tuesday, but later changed his mind, saying his committee would meet on Wednesday to follow up on the case.
He sought an explanation from the legislature.
“What happened today is aggressive and should not be repeated,” Bizri said. “No political priority.”
Bizari said the national vaccination plan needs to get shots at pre-determined centers without favoring the people, adding that he had discussed the issue with the World Bank’s regional director before holding a news conference.
“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn! #Nusta, ”Saroj Kumar Zai, the World Bank’s regional director, tweeted earlier. He used the Lebanese word meaning there should be no devotionalism.
The Secretary-General of Parliament, Adnan Daher, was quoted by the state media as the 16 legislators jumped on the line, preferring medical workers and residents over the age of 75. All the MLAs who received inoculation were registered and properly lined up, Daher said.
Some of the legislators inoculated on Tuesday are younger than 75 years, according to a name leaked to local media for a year, including Deputy Parliament Speaker Eli Farzley, who said in a tweet that he had registered for the vaccine in late January.
In January, the Lebanese government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registration platform for residents of the nation.
A statement issued by the president later on Tuesday said that President Michelle Aoun, 86, as well as 10 of his wife and his staff had received their vaccines corresponding to the vaccine online vaccination platform.
The World Bank may “suspend funding for vaccines and support for COVID19 response throughout Lebanon!” Zhao tweeted early on Tuesday. “I appeal to everyone, regardless of your situation, I mean you, please register and wait your turn.”
Zhao said the vaccination plan “does not comply with the national plan” agrees with the World Bank and “we will record it (as such) a violation of the terms and conditions agreed with us for proper and fair vaccination.”
More than 356,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in Lebanon, a country of 6 million people, including the last million Syrian refugees, and the first case was reported in February last year.
There has been a huge increase in recent cases in hospitals already struggling to cope amid the country’s serious economic crisis.