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Palestinians cancel vaccine deal with Israel, saying doses are too close to expiration date

A Palestinian health worker gives a woman a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine during a vaccination drive in Tubas, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on March 25. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)
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An earlier version of this article said that Israel had sent more than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority. Israel only sent a portion of the doses before the agreement was canceled. The article has been corrected.

JERUSALEM — Just hours after a vaccine-sharing agreement was announced with Israel on Friday, the Palestinian Authority announced that the deal was off because the doses donated by Israel were too close to their expiration date and did not meet its standards.

Israel announced that it would send more than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines close to their expiration date to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in exchange for a similar quantity of fresh vaccine to be returned by the Palestinians later in the year, officials said Friday.

The arrangement to cooperatively manage their vaccine stocks would have allowed the Palestinian Ministry of Health to accelerate its vaccine campaign while keeping unneeded doses in Israel from going to waste. Israel — which has already vaccinated a significant majority of its residents — will get its vaccine stocks replenished in time for booster shots later in the year, experts said.

However, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila told reporters Friday that they had expected the doses to have expiration dates for July or August. After they received them, Alkaila said, they saw that the doses would in fact expire in June.

“That’s not enough time to use them, so we rejected them,” Alkaila said, according to Reuters.

The vaccine deal, announced by the office of new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, had followed criticism from Palestinian activists and human rights groups that say Israel has not done enough to help fight the pandemic in Palestinian populations it largely controls.

Israel donated several thousand vaccine doses for Palestinian health workers early in the year, and the Israeli army inoculated more than 100,000 Palestinian workers who have permits to work in Israel. But then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to make vaccines available on a wider scale, contending that the Palestinian Authority was responsible for public health under the terms of the Oslo accords.

Members of the new government touted their announcement Friday as a means to aid Palestinians while keeping the virus at bay across borders.

The statement, issued jointly by the prime minister and the Health and Defense ministries, said the transfer of up to 1.4 million doses would be paid back from a Pfizer order scheduled to be delivered to the Palestinians in September or October.

Experts say waiving patents won’t help poorer nations acquire the technical complexity of manufacturing coronavirus vaccines. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

“We will continue to find effective ways to cooperate for the benefit of people in the region,” new Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a tweet.

The Israeli military unit responsible for coordination with the Palestinian Authority said it delivered 100,000 doses of vaccine on Friday, before the deal was scrapped.

It was not immediately clear if some of the shared vaccine would have been passed on to the Gaza Strip, where vaccination levels are lower. Last month’s 11-day war threatened to create a new surge of infections after thousands of Gazans were forced to shelter in crowded schools and community centers during Israel’s bombardment of the enclave.

Israel has seen a dramatic drop in its need for vaccine inventories as its fastest-in-the-world vaccine program has delivered shots to a significant majority of its population and the country has largely returned to pre-pandemic life.

The virus continues to spread in the West Bank, although the number of positive cases has declined as more people have gotten vaccinated. Officials have mostly depended on doses donated by other countries or the Covax program aimed at inoculating the world’s poorest populations.

“You are beginning to see people have more weddings and parties,” said Salwa Najjab, a West Bank physician who has served on one of the Palestinian Authority’s coronavirus advisory panels. “The situation is getting better.”

A boost in supply would extend the reach of the vaccine campaign in time to help communities weather an expected jump in outside visitors from Europe, other Arab countries and the United States as global travel restrictions are lifted, Najjab said.

“It will make a difference if they get it out to the villages,” she said.

Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.