Anti-Vaxxing Strong in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) -
Palestinians from the Ministry of Health unload boxes of Russian Sputnik V vaccine sent by the United Arab Emirates, at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Waiting for her COVID-19 vaccination in a Gaza clinic, Leena Al-Tourk, a 28-year-old Palestinian lawyer, recalled the social pressure she faced in the Hamas-ruled enclave for getting the shot.

“Some people told me, are you insane? Wait until you see whether it is good or bad,” she said.

Just 8,500 people have turned out to be vaccinated in Gaza according to an official, even though the enclave of two million people has received around 83,300 vaccine doses since February donated by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX program.

Suspicion of the vaccines runs deep in Gaza, which has registered over 57,000 coronavirus infections and 572 deaths, and which recently relaxed lockdown restrictions.

People fear possible side-effects from the jabs and are sharing their misgivings widely on social media.

“We are targeting 150,000 people from category number 1: the elderly, medical personnel and patients with chronic and serious illnesses, who may develop serious symptoms if infected,” said Majdi Dhair, deputy director of prime healthcare in Gaza.

“Only 26,000 people registered. This is a minimal number,” he said, citing misinformation on social networks as part of the problem.

On a Gaza street, Ahmed Nasser, 57, leaned against a pro-vaccination mural, painted by youngsters, that depicts a “coronavirus” with jagged teeth trying to tug a woman away from two youths holding her hand.

“Protect yourself,” a slogan next to the painting says. “Hand in hand we protect the elderly.”

Nasser, a government employee, was unconvinced.

“Of course, I will not take the vaccine. They say on social media it can lead to blood clots,” he said.

In contrast, 100,000 Palestinians have registered to get the vaccine in the Israeli-controlled Yehuda and Shomron, where authorities have received 76,700 doses donated by Israel, Russia and COVAX.