BEIRUT: The head of the national COVID-19 vaccination committee Dr. Abdel Rahman al-Bizri Tuesday condemned the vaccination of MPs, calling it a “violation that cannot be tolerated.”
“What happened today was a huge mistake and cannot be repeated,” Bizri said during a news conference, where he was expected to resign from his position as he had told local media he would earlier.
“I am not responsible for this breach but I will apologize for it,” he said, adding that the breach would hurt the people's trust in the national vaccination campaign.
Bizri stopped short of resigning, even though he said he had a "strong desire" to do so.
Lebanon’s ruling class was embroiled in another scandal as 16 MPs over the age of 75 were inoculated at the Parliament in what was a breach in the national vaccination plan’s rules and a gross display of privilege.
A few hours after the scandal, the Presidency Information Office said in a statement that the President Michel Aoun, 86, and First Lady Nadia Aoun, received the jab along with 10 members of the president's close team who had registered their names according to the rules of the vaccination platform.
Aoun also called on the Lebanese to register their names on the platform to receive the vaccine and contribute to combating the spread of the pandemic.
"It is also noteworthy that during the previous period, coronavirus infections were recorded in the president’s direct working team," the statement said.
Bizri criticized the vaccination of MPs, calling it a violation of priorities as many people with life-threatening diseases and much older than the vaccinated MPs have not even gotten their appointments.
"We cannot ask those in their 80s and 90s to wait for their turn [to be vaccinated], and go to vaccination centers while there are people who got vaccinated at their workplace in violation of the set priorities," he said.
The first phase of Lebanon's vaccination plan includes the inoculation of all those over the age of 75 and front-line health care workers. People are required to register through an online platform created by the government where they will receive their appointments.
It is unclear how all MPs were given the exact same appointment through the online system and why MPs did not wait for their turn like the many high-risk senior citizens they represent.
Bizri said the Health Ministry was responsible for the vaccination of the MPs.
However, Secretary-General of the Parliament Adnan Daher said that the 16 MPs had all been registered on the official platform to illustrate that the process was in line with the vaccination plan as they were registered through the official channel, making them eligible to receive the jab.
“All the names of the MPs who took the vaccine are registered in the official platform ... it is their turn [to receive the vaccine],” he was quoted as saying by the state-run National News Agency.
In a brief statement at Parliament he said "no MP who isn't over 70 or does not suffer from chronic diseases was vaccinated."
But MP Anis Nassar, who is around 71 years old, did get vaccinated. The MP in a statement said that he had registered for the vaccine on Jan. 29 and received an invitation to receive the vaccine from the Parliament Monday night. "I did not know of any violations and if that is the case then I am deeply sorry even though I am not responsible for what happened.
According to local media, 23 Parliament employees over the age of 75 also received the vaccine Tuesday.
Daher said that teams from the Health Ministry and the Lebanese Red Cross were present for the vaccination.
A World Bank director also threatened to halt the organization’s funding for Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccine procurement the scandal, describing it as a “breach” of their agreed standards of vaccination with the government.
“Upon confirmation of violation, @WorldBank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for COVID19 response across Lebanon!!” World Bank Middle East Director Saroj Kumar Jha said in a tweet in response to the news of the MPs getting vaccinated.
His tweet came after reports emerged that 16 MPs over the age of 75 were vaccinated at the Parliament Tuesday morning.
“I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for you turn!” he continued.
The World Bank director’s threat, if implemented, would be a devastating blow for Lebanon’s battle against the pandemic.
The organization paid approximately $18 million for Lebanon’s procurement of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine currently being administered in the country.