President Michel Aoun met Monday in Baabda with caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who thanked the president for “authorizing him to negotiate with the Pfizer company on providing its anti-coronavirus vaccine,” the National News Agency said.
Aoun gave Hassan the necessary instructions for “finalizing the agreement with the aforementioned company to achieve this purpose,” NNA added.
“It is one of the honorable, responsible and wise junctures,” Hassan told reporters after the meeting.
He said the president’s authorization allows for “securing all the financial credits for finalizing the agreement with the possible speed.”
Asked how the first batch of vaccines will be distributed, the minister said “a national commission has been formed and is led by Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Bizri and comprises all medical syndicates, associations and authorities in addition to the advisers of the president and the caretaker PM.”
“Though this commission, we aim to devise a mechanism to secure the delivery of the vaccine to the accredited vaccination centers, enabling the poor, the needy and the rich to get it for free,” Hassan added.
“We are emphasizing the need for the fairness of distribution and the quality and effectiveness of the vaccine,” the minister went on to say, reassuring the Lebanese that “there will be transparency and security, military and societal followup to achieve the goals.”
Hassan added that Lebanon has reserved nearly 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, an amount that covers up to 20% of Lebanese, noting that the vaccines are expected to be in Lebanon by February.
The deal was expected to be signed Monday.
Assem Araji, the lawmaker who heads the parliamentary health committee, said the deal being negotiated is for $18 a dose, a price that takes into consideration Lebanon’s economic troubles. The $27 million deal would secure 1.5 million vaccines while the country negotiates to receive closer to 2 million.
Araji told The Associated Press the government is to pay a $4 million deposit at signing, expected Monday. It hopes to cover the rest with a World Bank loan that has been diverted to cover expenses related to the pandemic.
Lebanon has also signed up for another 1.5 million vaccines with COVAX, the World Health Organization-led partnership with humanitarian organizations that aims to provide vaccines for up to 20% of the population of poor countries hit hard by the pandemic. Lebanon has deposited $4.3 million to secure the COVAX vaccines, Araji said.
Both vaccines would be offered for free in Lebanon.
Commercially, hospitals and pharmacies can provide their own vaccines, Araji said.
Lebanon has a population of nearly 6 million, including over 1 million Syrian refugees. Araji said U.N. agencies would cover the refugee population.
The country has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks that has driven the number of reported infections to over 170,000 and more than 1,300 deaths. Lebanon’s health sector is also under strain amid the economic crunch and following this summer’s massive explosion in Beirut that temporarily knocked a number of hospitals out of service.
The government resigned in the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion, and is acting in a caretaker capacity, requiring approval from the president before signing the commercial deal with Pfizer.
Lebanon has 12 refrigerators in which the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be stored between minus 80 degree Celsius and minus 60 degrees Celsius, and WHO has promised six more, Araji said.