Pfizer Supplies Jordan, Lebanon With Covid Vaccines for Refugees
(Bloomberg) -- Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE are donating hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses to Jordan and Lebanon as a part of a broader push to aid refugees during the pandemic.
On Monday, 100,000 doses of the companies’ coronavirus vaccine arrived at the coastal Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. There, the donated doses are being loaded into UPS trucks and delivered to nearby warehouses at the Rafic Hariri Hospital, the largest Lebanese public hospital located on the outskirts of Beirut.
That’s not the coveted vaccine’s final destination, however. The Lebanese government will then ship supply across the small country that borders Syria and Israel. Just two-thirds the size of Connecticut, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita of any country, according to the United Nations, with an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, as well as refugees from Ethiopia, Iraq and Sudan. The vast majority live in extreme poverty. Those conditions, coupled with the pandemic, have been described as “a crisis within a crisis.”
Altogether, Pfizer and BioNTech will donate a total of 600,000 doses to Lebanon and 200,000 doses to Jordan this year. Working in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the vaccine partners will replenish the countries’ stockpiles, which have already been used to serve displaced people. Both Lebanon and Jordan host a large number of Syrians who have fled violence spurred by a decade-long civil war that erupted in 2011.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” said Patrick Van Der Loo, Pfizer’s Africa-Middle East regional president. “Jordan and Lebanon have set an excellent example of how an efficient and effective national immunization program provides for all people across a diverse population, especially the poor and the vulnerable.”
Global health authorities have sounded an alarm about disparate access to vaccines, particularly as the delta variant spreads. Countries and regions with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated more than 20 times faster than those with the lowest. And asylum seekers and refugees, often overlooked in national vaccination campaigns, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
New York-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech will deliver another 500,000 doses to Lebanon in the fourth quarter of the year to replenish doses given to refugees.
Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s outgoing minister of health, who was responsible for overseeing Monday’s arrival of vaccine doses, said the nation has been vigilant about pursuing an equitable immunization campaign for all residents, be they citizens, refugees or foreign workers.
“Despite the challenging economic situation in the country, one of the key components of our vaccination campaign has been to provide Covid-19 vaccines free of charge to refugees,” Hassan said.
Lebanon has a supply agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech for a total of 4 million doses, many of which have already been used to vaccinate refugees.
The arrival of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses in Lebanon follows a large shipment made to Jordan in August.
Last month, the companies donated 150,000 doses to Jordan to replace those already given to refugees at sites in in both urban and rural environments. Jordan’s Ministry of Health, in coordination with the U.N. refugee agency, has also focused on vaccine distribution in the Za’atari and Azraq camps, both of which predominately serve Syrian asylum seekers and refugees.
Jordan launched its national vaccination campaign in January with Pfizer-BioNTech shots it had bought. Altogether, Jordan has an agreement for a total of 8.5 million doses of the two-shot regimen. For months, it has turned to that supply to help protect refugees from Covid-19 infection. Refugees can be vaccinated at any center administering doses throughout the kingdom.
In October, Pfizer and BioNTech will donate and ship another 50,000 doses to replenish Jordan’s stockpile. The companies said the donation will allow the country to effectively and efficiently manage the national vaccination program while also protect the most vulnerable.
“We have included refugees in every aspect of the Ministry of Health’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Jordan Minister of Health Firas Al-Hawari. “Jordan granted any person living in the Kingdom the right to receive the vaccine free of cost, giving refugees the exact same access to the vaccine as Jordanian citizens.”
With support from the UN, Pfizer and BioNTech aim to expand their efforts to reach other vulnerable people fleeing humanitarian crises.
“We have been collaborating closely with governments and international organizations to better understand how Pfizer can help ensure that displaced and other vulnerable populations have access to vaccines,” said Caroline Roan, the company’s senior vice president for global health and social impact. “Jordan and Lebanon’s comprehensive approach to national immunization illustrates how other countries can pursue equitable access of Covid-19 vaccines.”
The UN has advocated that governments include displaced people in their vaccination plans, in addition to providing other social services.
The Pfizer Foundation, which is separate from its for-profit namesake, has provided grants to the the UN refugee agency focused on protecting refugees, displaced communities and stateless for critical health projects.
The foundation is helping fund the UNHCR’s outreach and pandemic-oriented response to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Pfizer Foundation funding will help establish isolation and treatment centers, and quarantine facilities in Cox’s Bazar. Grants will also support similar centers for refugees in Colombia.
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