Middle East

COVID vaccine mandates – and prizes – boost uptake among Palestinians

GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept 1 (Reuters) – After mandating vaccinations for workers and many students – and offering prize money – to nudge a skeptical public to get the jab, Palestinian officials report a big boost in vaccine uptake they hope will stem a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Officials in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank announced the new rules last week after many shunned the vaccine due to misinformation online – even as authorities accumulated enough doses to cover most Palestinians over 12.

In addition to mandating jabs for public sector workers and those in jobs dealing with the public, as well as teachers and students above 15, Gaza now offers a chance at $200 – a hefty sum for Palestinians in the impoverished territory – to anyone over 50 who gets inoculated. Ten winners are chosen daily.

More Palestinians in Gaza have taken the vaccine in the past week – some 133,000 – than in the entire six-month period prior, health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said. The West Bank has registered a similar jump in vaccinations.

Samer Al-Asad, a Palestinian Authority (PA) health ministry official in the West Bank, attributed the increased uptake to “people’s desire to go back to normal life…The vaccine is the only and shortest way to curb the spread of the virus.”

Despite the recent boost, however, just 19.5 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and 41 percent in the West Bank are vaccinated, according to PA health ministry data. Officials privately worry the current increases will eventually taper off.

New infections in the West Bank and Gaza have surged since the global emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

PA health officials began administering vaccines in West Bank schools this week to keep up the momentum.

At one school in the village of Dura, near Hebron, 11th-grader Youssef Sharif said he trusted the science behind the jab. “Scientists won’t do anything unless they are sure of it. In my opinion, everyone should get vaccinated,” he said.

At a Gaza vaccination centre, Hassan Al-Farana said he was initially sceptical but decided to get the jab after some of his family members did so. “We got vaccinated, and we found it wasn’t harmful,” the 43-year-old Palestinian said.

Additional reporting by Yosri Al-Jamal in Hebron Writing by Rami Ayyub Editing by Mark Heinrich
IMAGE: A Palestinian student receives a dose of Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as a school year begins, in a school near Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, September 1, 2021.

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