BEIRUT (AP) — The World Bank threatened Tuesday to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon over what it said were violations by members of parliament who were inoculated without registering in advance.
Such a move by the World Bank would have grave consequences as Lebanon struggles through severe financial and economic crises and is in desperate need of aid. The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon to inoculate over 2 million people.
The vaccination campaign began Feb. 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed an agreement for independent monitoring of Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.
“There were many violations that took place at vaccination centers,” said Sharaf Abu Sharaf, president of Lebanese Order of Physicians. He said the violations included vaccinating people who were not registered or not included in the first phase of the campaign.
Lebanon is notorious for corruption and nepotism, which has brought the Mediterranean nation to the brink of bankruptcy.
The vaccination of lawmakers at a building used by the legislature to hold meetings raised anger among the country's population. Many have lost faith in the corrupt political class blamed for many of the country's problems.
Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the committee supervising the vaccination campaign, had planned to resign in protest Tuesday but changed his mind, saying his committee will hold a meeting Wednesday to follow up the case.
He added that an explanation is needed from the legislature.
“What happened today is outrageous and should not be repeated,” Bizri said. “There is no political priority.”
Bizri said that before he held the news conference he discussed the matter with the regional director of the World Bank.
“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn! #nowasta,” the World Bank’s regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, tweeted. He used a Lebanese term meaning there should not be nepotism.
Parliament's secretary general, Adnan Daher, was quoted by state media as denying the 16 legislators had jumped the line, which prioritizes medical workers and residents at least 75 years old. Daher said all of the legislators who received an inoculation had registered and were properly in line.
Some of the legislators inoculated Tuesday are younger than 75, according to names leaked to local media, including Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli who is 71. Ferzli confirmed in a tweet that he registered to take the vaccine in late January.
In January, Lebanon’s government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registration platform to people living in the tiny nation.
The World Bank “may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” Jha tweeted. “I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”
Jha said the vaccination plan “is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it (as a) breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination.”
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 356,000 coronavirus cases and 4,387 deaths since the first case was registered in February last year.