The Palestinian Authority canceled a deal to swap coronavirus vaccine doses with Israel on Friday, citing concerns about the quality of the shots.
Earlier in the day, Israel announced that it would transfer up to 1.4 million nearly-expired doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to the Palestinian territories.
In exchange, the PA would provide Israel with the same number of doses in September or October, after it received a fresh shipment, according to a joint statement from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office and the nation’s defence and health ministries. (Bennett assumed office on Sunday, replacing longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)
But almost as soon as the first 90,000 doses arrived from Israel, the PA said it would send them back.
“After the technical teams in the ministry of health examined the first batch of the Pfizer vaccines that were received this evening from Israel, it became clear that the 90,000 doses received do not conform to the specifications contained in the agreement,” Ibrahim Melhem, a PA spokesperson, said at a Friday press conference.
PA Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the doses were supposed to expire in July or August, but the expiration date turned out to be in June, according to Reuters.
“That’s not enough time to use them, so we rejected them,” Alkaila said.
Bennett’s office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
For the past several months, Israelis and Palestinians have witnessed starkly different vaccine rollouts.
Israel has vaccinated a greater share of its population than just about any country so far: around 63% of Israelis have received at least one dose. Many scientists believe that Israel has now reached herd immunity, the threshold beyond which the virus can’t easily pass from person to person.
The nation rolled back the last of its coronavirus restrictions in early June: Businesses can now operate at full capacity, and residents no longer have to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated to enter restaurants, sporting events, or entertainment venues.
Meanwhile, less than 9% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — around 30% of those eligible to get vaccinated — has received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials. Many of these doses hail from other countries — including Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates — as well as COVAX, a global alliance spearheaded by the World Health Organization to vaccinate the world’s poorest nations.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem have access to Israeli health insurance, so they’re eligible to be vaccinated by Israel, but those vaccinations don’t extend to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a result, several human-rights organizations have called on Israel to give Palestinians vaccines right away.
“In the Palestinian communities, if they’re not vaccinating as much and then there’s a new strain that comes up that can evade the vaccine protection, then that’s going to be a big issue,” Jorge Alfaro-Murillo, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, previously told Insider.
Israel has said that the PA is responsible for its own vaccination campaign. But the nation’s new health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, tweeted Friday that the “important exchange of vaccines” would benefit both sides. That same day, the non-profit organization Physicians for Human Rights Israel called the deal “too little too late.”