Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan on Sunday signed a “final agreement” with the Pfizer company for securing more than 2.1 million Covid-19 vaccines that will begin gradually arriving in Lebanon as of early February, his press office said.
In a statement, the office noted that an agreement was also signed in October so that Lebanon gets 2.7 million vaccines from various companies through the U.N.-backed Covax program.
Moreover, Hassan’s office revealed that the Health Ministry and the private sector intend to secure two million vaccines from Astrazeneca and Sinopharm as of February.
A lawmaker earlier told The Associated Press the Pfizer deal is for $18 a dose, a price that takes into consideration Lebanon’s economic troubles, and is expected to cover 20% of the population for free.
Lebanon, a country of more than 6 million, including at least 1 million refugees, has seen a massive climb in infections since Christmas and New Year holidays. The surge has overwhelmed hospitals and the health care system.
During the holiday season, restrictions in place for months to combat the virus were eased to encourage spending by some 80,000 expatriates who returned home to celebrate. The pandemic has hit Lebanon at a time when it already was struggling with a crippling economic and financial crisis. The combination has sent the country’s currency tumbling, banks putting informal controls on withdrawals and businesses shuttering around the country.
As infections increased and ICU beds filled up, authorities imposed the strictest lockdown yet starting last Thursday, hoping that restrictions in place until February 1 could help contain the rise.
In recent weeks, between 4,000 and 5,000 infections were recorded a day and a rise in daily death tolls, up from numbers that hovered around 1,000 since November.
In the first 11 days of January alone, Lebanon’s Red Cross said it has transported over 1,200 COVID-19 patients to hospitals.
Lebanon has so far recorded 249,158 infections and some 1,866 deaths.
Many have expressed concern the measures have come too late — many hospitals have already reached maximum capacity for coronavirus patients, some have run out of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators while others have halted elective surgeries.
There are already calls to extend the lockdown beyond Valentine’s Day on February 14 — another widely celebrated holiday in Lebanon.
Following bureaucratic delays, the country now is putting hopes on vaccines. Parliament approved on Friday the law that allowed for signing the final deal with Pfizer, offering guarantees for pharmaceutical companies for emergency rollout of the vaccine. Lebanon has at least 12 refrigerators to store the vaccine.