BEIRUT (AP) – The World Bank threatened Tuesday to suspend funding for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon as it investigated suspicions of favoritism amid allegations that lawmakers were vaccinated in parliament without prior approval.
A senior Lebanese official who oversaw the launch of the vaccine called it “outrageous” and threatened to resign amid a social media protest by Lebanese deeply distrustful of their notoriously corrupt politicians.
The World Bank is one of the main funders of the Lebanese coronavirus campaign and has approved $ 34 million to pay for vaccines for 2 million people. Suspending its assistance would have serious implications for the liquidity-strapped government, which is experiencing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and relies on foreign aid.
The vaccination campaign began on February 14 and so far Lebanon has received almost 60,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed an agreement for the independent monitoring of the vaccination campaign against the coronavirus in Lebanon. Decades of corruption and mismanagement have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and collapse.
“There were a lot of rapes that took place in the vaccination centers,” said Sharaf Abu Sharaf, president of the 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.
The Lebanese had expected the launch of the vaccine to be riddled with corruption and violations, but news of the vaccination of lawmakers as a political group in a building used by the legislature sparked fresh outrage among the country’s population on Monday.
Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the committee overseeing the vaccination campaign, had planned to resign in protest on Tuesday, but later changed his mind and said his committee would meet Wednesday to follow up on the case.
He demanded an explanation from the legislature.
“What happened today is outrageous and should not be repeated,” Bizri said. “There is no political priority.”
Bizri said that the national vaccine plan requires that people get vaccinated at predetermined centers without favoritism, adding that before holding the press conference, he discussed the matter with the World Bank’s regional director.
“Everyone has to register and wait their turn! #nowasta, ”World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha previously tweeted. He used a Lebanese term that means there should be no nepotism.
The secretary general of parliament, Adnan Daher, was quoted by state media as denying that the 16 lawmakers had skipped the line, which gives priority to medical workers and residents over 75. Daher said that all legislators who received a vaccine had registered and were properly aligned.
Some of the lawmakers vaccinated Tuesday are under the age of 75, according to names leaked to local media, including 71-year-old Vice Speaker of Parliament Elie Ferzli. Ferzli said in a tweet that he signed up for the vaccine in late January.
In January, the Lebanese government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registry platform for the nation’s residents.
Later Tuesday, a statement issued by the presidency said 86-year-old President Michel Aoun, as well as his wife and 10 people from his entourage, also received their vaccinations online with the online vaccination platform.
The World Bank “May Stop Funding For Vaccines And Supporting The COVID19 Response Across Lebanon!” Jha tweeted early Tuesday. “I call on everyone, I mean everyone, regardless of their position, to register and wait their turn.”
Jha said that the vaccination plan “is not in line with the national plan” agreed with the World Bank and “we would record it (as a) breach of the terms and conditions agreed with us for a fair and equitable vaccination.”
Lebanon, a country of 6 million people, including one million Syrian refugees, has recorded more than 356,000 coronavirus cases and 4,387 deaths since the first case was recorded in February last year.
A recent surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals already struggling to cope with the country’s severe financial crisis.