Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan broke his silence Wednesday evening over the controversy sparked by the vaccination of around two dozen MPs and parliament employees in apparent disregard for the national queue and the country’s electronic registration platform.
Speaking in an interview with state-run Tele Liban, Hassan said he took a “sovereign decision” by asking medical teams to head to parliament to vaccinate the lawmakers “in appreciation of their efforts, after parliament convened for seven consecutive days to approve the vaccine’s emergency use law.”
“There is a mobile clinic at the Health Ministry which will move between state institutions… and I will also visit the religious authorities to give them the vaccine the same as I gave it to MPs,” the minister added.
Noting that the age range of the MPs who received the vaccine was “not against logic,” Hassan described the uproar over the issue as “exaggerated” and “out of proportion.”
He added: “The ministerial (anti-Covid) committee has jurisdiction and the head of the vaccine national committee Abdul Rahman al-Bizri is part of a consultative committee but the ministerial committee is the one that takes decisions.”
As for the vaccines received by President Michel Aoun, First Lady Nadia Aoun and at least 10 of the president’s aides, Hassan said: “The vaccine received by President Michel Aoun is the same vaccine received by citizens in the Bekaa, Akkar, Beirut, the South and all Lebanese regions. This is justice.”
The World Bank had threatened Tuesday to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon over what it said were suspected violations by lawmakers who were inoculated in parliament.
Such a move by the World Bank would have grave consequences as Lebanon struggles through severe financial and economic crises and is in desperate need of aid. The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn! #nowasta,” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweeted, using a Lebanese term meaning that there should not be nepotism.
The World Bank “may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” he warned. “I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn.”
He added that the vaccination “is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it (as a) breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination.”
Lebanon is notorious for corruption and nepotism, which has brought the Mediterranean nation to bankruptcy.
Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the committee supervising the vaccination campaign, held a news conference later Tuesday in which he announced that he backed down from a decision to submit his resignation and that he had called the committee’s members for a meeting to “discuss the reasons and justifications” for the controversial vaccination of the 16 MPs.
“What happened today was a breach of the vaccination process over which we cannot remain silent,” he added.
“What happened today is outrageous and should not be repeated,” Bizri said. “There is no political priority,” he stressed.
In January, Lebanon’s government launched a digital coronavirus vaccination registration platform for residents of the nation.
Lebanese had been expecting the vaccine rollout to be riddled with corruption and violations but news that MPs had received their injections sparked anger on social media, in a country with a long reputation for government corruption.
“My mom is 84 she is registered and didn’t (have) her turn yet, while all the politicians, (their) families and friends will be vaccinated before her,” said one Twitter user.
Lebanon’s national plan prioritizes medical workers and residents over 75 years old in its current first phase. Some of the legislators inoculated Tuesday were younger than 75.