Lebanon seeks private sector help for vaccination drive

Only about 1 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and there are concerns that contracting out vaccination distribution will not benefit those who are most in need.

Video Transcript

ZEINA KHODR: This initiative is supposed to speed up the coronavirus vaccination campaign in Lebanon. The government is allowing private companies to import vaccines to make sure the country's collapsed economy stays open.

INTERPRETER: I am so happy we are finally getting vaccinated because we work at the airport. We are exposed to many people, and we are on the front lines. We are safe now.

ZEINA KHODR: For now, vaccines can only be sold to companies, unions, institutions, and NGOs that are supposed to offer them to their employees and their families for free. But many say they are concerned. Lebanon is notorious for corruption, and vaccines are sold in hard currency, which few people now have. The minimum monthly salary is worth $60.

ABDEL RAHMAN AL BIZRI: We're asking the Lebanese, those who can afford it, to pay around $40 a vaccine, which means today in Lebanon it is the survival of the richest. The poor will remain without vaccination.

ZEINA KHODR: Officials disagree. They say public health authorities and the private sector will work together.

- The government or the public money is [INAUDIBLE] available. And of course, an immunization campaign is costly, yet it's very cost-effective. However, so if we can get the public sector involved, then we can reduce the cost of the vaccination campaign, we can speed up the vaccination campaign.

ZEINA KHODR: The nearly bankrupt government purchased vaccines using a loan from the World Bank. It also received help from the UN-led program COVAX that assists developing countries. So far, the amounts are limited.

The vaccination rollout is in week seven, but it's been slow. At present, each day, fewer than 10,000 people are receiving a jab. So far, only 1% of a population of an estimated 6 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The private sector may reduce pressure on the government, but it's giving politicians leverage. Some are promising to secure vaccines for people in their electoral districts for free.

MARK DAOU: It would allow for private placements, which is basically blocking off large quantities of those vaccines for specific populations that are loyal to the politicians.

ZEINA KHODR: When the campaign was launched, officials insisted everyone would have equal access to vaccines. They are now being accused of bypassing regulations designed to ensure that happens. Zeina Khodr, Al-Jazeera, Beirut.