“When we ask that all citizens go down to the vaccination centers and stand in line, then all citizens should go to the vaccination centers, with no exceptions,” Bizri said. He added that people would be dispatched to houses of those too elderly or sick to leave, but that favoritism for some citizens will not be tolerated.
Although he had earlier announced that he would resign, Bizri said he held off at the behest of colleagues.
If the government provides an inadequate explanation as to why this breach took place, said Bizri, then the committee is likely to be united in resignation on Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Saroj Jumar Jha, World Bank’s regional director for the Middle East, confirmed the violation to The Washington Post. The World Bank dedicated $34 million to Lebanon’s vaccination program.
Jha said the World Bank has a report on the violation by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who is also monitoring the vaccination campaign.
Jha added that the World Bank will issue a notice asking the government to explain itself and tell why the World Bank shouldn’t withdraw from the legal agreement. “We need to follow due process,” he said, “But our objective is to save lives and livelihoods. We want authorities to take corrective measures immediately and report to us.”
Health-care workers, elderly and immunocompromised individuals were given priority for the vaccine, according to a national deployment and vaccination plan adopted last month by the Ministry of Public Health and supported by the World Bank. “We will MONITOR fair and transparent distribution to PRIORITY groups,” Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank’s regional vice president for the Middle East and North Africa wrote in a tweet then.
He added the hashtag “NoWasta” — the latter word an Arabic term that roughly translates to a mix of nepotism and connections.
“Wasta,” a common phrase in Lebanon and other Arab countries, effectively rules daily life: those with wasta have a higher chance of getting access to services and privileges like jobs, health care and reduced jail sentences. The World Bank and the IFRC signed an agreement for the independent monitoring of Lebanon’s vaccination campaign aimed at reducing this endemic favoritism. The hashtag “NoWasta” spread in Lebanon, with residents hopeful that this will lead to a legal and fair rollout of the vaccine.
“Since the plan began until now,” Bizri said, “we’ve noticed a few things, which are sometimes isolated [incidents]. But today I believe there was a breach we cannot stay silent on.”
The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Lebanon on Feb. 13, under World Bank watch. The first small batch of about 28,000 vaccine doses, followed by the 31,000 that followed on Sunday, are part of a World Bank-financed project that aims to vaccinate two million people in Lebanon.