A U.S. donation of 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as Palestinian officials work to boost uptake and counter a surge in new cases by requiring some workers to get the jab.
The Palestinians began administering vaccines in February, but despite having purchased or received what officials have called "an abundance of doses," uptake has stalled at just 35% of age-eligible Palestinians in the West Bank, and around 11% in Gaza.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, whose Palestinian Authority (PA) has limited self-rule in the West Bank, said on Monday that unvaccinated public-sector employees would be put on unpaid leave, with immediate effect.
Gaza's rulers Hamas are requiring all working individuals and service providers to take the vaccine by Sept. 1, Hamas interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum wrote on Twitter.
With the U.S. donation of 500,000 Moderna doses, facilitated through the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, the Palestinians say they have now received 2.5 million doses. The West Bank will take 300,000 of the donation and Gaza 200,000.
Officials also expect to receive 1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in September. New infections have spiked since the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant.
PA Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the Palestinians are "on the precipice of a fourth wave in terms of cases, deaths and hospital occupancy." Cases in the West Bank, home to 3 million Palestinians, rose to 696 on Tuesday, up from just 83 two weeks ago. Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians live, had 874 cases on Tuesday, up from 77 two weeks ago.