Only 1% vaccinated for coronavirus in the region

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than six million confirmed cases of the virus across the EMRO region, including 140,000 deaths, Mandhari said.
Tuesday 16/02/2021
A Lebanese healthcare staff prepares a dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at the Rafik Hariri Hospital in the capital Beirut, on February 14, 2021. (AFP)
A Lebanese healthcare staff prepares a dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at the Rafik Hariri Hospital in the capital Beirut, on February 14, 2021. (AFP)

CAIRO - The World Health Organization said Monday that only around 1% of the wider 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 (EMRO) of nearly 600 million people, stretching from Morocco to Pakistan — but excluding Israel.

“So far, more than 6.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been given to people in 12 countries,” Ahmed al-Mandhari, the Cairo-based WHO’s regional chief, told reporters.

WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) comprises 21 member states and is home to some 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 shot.

“Vaccinations are a turning point in facing the virus but the vaccines alone are not enough,” al-Mandhari said, adding that social distancing, wearing masks and keeping clean remain the main ways to fight the spread of the virus.

— Variants emerging —

He said as many people as possible should be vaccinated before they come into contact with any of the new variants of the virus.

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

Mandhari said 37,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from the global COVAX initiative will arrive in the Palestinian territories and 94,000 should arrive in Tunisia in the coming weeks. The programme seeks to provide vaccines to developing nations.

The remaining 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,” Mandhari said.

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

Mandhari also warned of the “unequal distribution of the vaccine roll-out” 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 predicting that “the pace of these agreements will accelerate.”

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

Bed occupancy in COVID-19 intensive care units in Lebanon, which saw a spike in cases after the December holidays, stood at more than 89% on Friday.

— Worst hit places —

Mandhari said overall the number of new coronavirus cases in the region has stabilised, despite increases in some Gulf nations and Lebanon.

Lebanon has been one of the hardest hit countries in the region in recent weeks with hospitals working at near maximum capacity amid a nationwide lockdown. Lebanon began a vaccination campaign Sunday.

A nation of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has confirmed nearly 340,000 cases.

Iran remains the eastern Mediterranean country with the highest number of confirmed cases at about 1.5 million.