BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s health minister said Monday his country has reserved nearly 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to fight the coronavirus, an amount that covers up to 20% of Lebanese.
Hamad Hassan said in a news conference his government has been negotiating with the company to acquire the vaccines and that they are expected to be in Lebanon by February. The deal was expected to be signed Monday.
Lebanon is reeling from a historic economic crisis that has left the highly indebted government short on cash and foreign currency. Foreign donors and supporters have refrained from bankrolling the government deficit demanding major reforms, which have failed to materialize because of political jockeying among the country’s multiple power centers and sectarian groups.
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 (minus 112° Fahrenheit and minus 76° Fahrenheit), and WHO has promised six more, Araji said.