Middle East

World Bank threatens to stop funding Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccines after reported violations

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The World Bank threatened to suspend financing for Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination drive in its second week after it emerged that some lawmakers would get their shots in parliament on Tuesday.

The comments from the World Bank came as frustration grew among some residents and doctors that vaccinations were moving slowly and could be riddled with violations.

Lebanon received its first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – about 28,000 doses – this month with aid from the World Bank, which said it would monitor to ensure the shots go to those most in need.

In its first operation funding the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the World Bank reallocated $34 million to help Lebanon start vaccinations.

The bank has warned against favoritism in a country where decades of state waste and corruption triggered a dire financial meltdown. 

After local media reported that some MPs would get their COVID-19 shots on Tuesday, the World Bank’s regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, said that would breach the national plan agreed for fair vaccination.

“Upon confirmation of violation, World Bank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” he wrote on Twitter. “I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”

The health ministry has sought to dispel fears that politicians would jump the queue. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An MP said current and retired lawmakers over 75-years-old, as well as some administrative staff, were getting vaccinated in the parliament hall. “What’s the big deal? They’re over 75 and registered,” he said.

TV networks were not present.

Charaf Abou Charaf, head of Lebanon’s doctors syndicate, had urged more transparency earlier on Tuesday and said there were “many violations” without giving a figure.

He said people who did not have priority or were not registered had received vaccines while some medical workers and elderly Lebanese still waited.

Hospitals, hammered by Lebanon’s financial crisis and last year’s port explosion, have fought some of the region’s highest infection rates since January. The surge took Lebanon’s death toll over 4,300.

Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan

FILE PHOTO: A participant stands near a logo of World Bank at the International Monetary Fund – World Bank Annual Meeting 2018 in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo

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