BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Ministry of Health will launch a “vaccination marathon” next Saturday for people aged over 30 to receive Astrazeneca jabs in health centers across the country.
In an effort to promote mass vaccination, Lebanese authorities will declare the province where the largest number of people receive vaccinations as the winner of the marathon.
A significant number of Lebanese citizens have refused to receive vaccines produced by AstraZeneca, despite receiving text messages outlining appointment dates.
It comes after viral news circulated that purported to show dangerous side effects of the vaccine, including risks of stroke and death.
Reports said that a man died three days after receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine. However, Hamad Hasan, Lebanon’s health minister, said that an investigation into the case “is still underway.”
Another eight other people were also reported dead after receiving the vaccine, but “whether their deaths were linked to the vaccine” is another question, Hasan added.
A health ministry study estimated that herd immunity reached 42 percent among Lebanese citizens and about 47 percent among Palestinian refugees in the country.
“This means that the herd immunity rate is rising to 50 percent, and is expected to reach about 75 percent in August, with large quantities of vaccines expected to be delivered,” said Hasan.
Lebanon is due to receive 2 million vaccines in June and July.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, head of the National Committee for the Administration of the Coronavirus Vaccine, told Arab News: “A high percentage of those registered to take the vaccine refrained from taking AstraZeneca. As part of our initiatives to encourage people to get vaccinated, we organized an open day enabling citizens to receive the vaccine without booking an appointment.”
Bizri said that a new Lebanese study showed an improved presence of antibodies among the population, but that total immunity had not yet been achieved. “The result should not make us feel reassured, as we need to continue to abide by the precautionary measures,” he added.
He said: “Lebanon is buying vaccines from the state treasury and will give priority to Pfizer vaccines.”
Daily COVID-19 case numbers in Lebanon have fallen significantly, with just 150 cases and seven deaths recorded on Monday.
However, Hasan warned against “gradually slipping away from preventive measures, which will make Lebanon return to the danger zone and the July 2020 scenario, when Lebanon began to lose control.”
During the summer season, Lebanon is expected to receive a surge of holidaymakers. Hasan warned tourists to avoid repeating the mistakes that could push Lebanon into a renewed wave of outbreaks.
According to government data, the total number of people who have registered to receive a vaccine reached 433,889, including 113,179 health workers. The vast majority of people were from the Beirut and Mount Lebanon regions, while the number of people registering from the Bekaa, North and South provinces was much lower.
More than 500,000 registered people have received a Pfizer vaccine, while only 85,880 received AstraZeneca’s jab. A further 54,105 people received Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and 6,093 Lebanese were inoculated with China’s Sinopharm.
From February 2020 to Monday, Lebanon has registered 538,668 COVID-19 cases.
“Positive epidemiological indicators continue to improve, with tests currently positive at 4 percent compared with the previous 22 percent, and the mortality rate has fallen from nine per 1,000 to nine per 3,000,” Hasan said.
This week, Lebanon’s health ministry began vaccinating public sector employees. About 900,000 people have registered on the country’s e-platform, but are yet to receive a vaccination. The ministry expects that all the people registered on the platform will receive a first Pfizer dose by the end of June.
The private sector has helped speed up the inoculation process by vaccinating employees of companies, institutions, factories and banks, with political parties also vaccinating supporters.