Lebanon: TEC-MED highlights COVID-19 vaccination process

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Associated Press Photo/Hussein Malla

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in February 2021 came at a critical time in Lebanon which is witnessing an unprecedented financial, health and socio-political crisis. This already fragile state was ravaged by the explosion of the Beirut Port which exposed the weaknesses of vulnerable groups like older persons. 

The current state added to the fragility of the healthcare system and exhausted its resources especially given the challenges of the rapid spread of COVID-19 and associated high hospital occupancy rates. Vaccination of the elderly is a big advancement to ensure a better quality of life for older persons in Lebanon. This is in line with the objectives of the TEC-MED project and will facilitate the implementation phase in the coming months.

A vaccination process against COVID-19 in a country in crisis but protecting international quality standards

Lebanon has set a National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 Vaccines, which aligns with international standards of quality and equity under the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) leadership and the COVID-19 Vaccine National Coordinating Committee with the support of different international partners (MOPH, 2021).  

The vaccines in Lebanon are provided through the COVAX facility and bilateral agreements with companies and are delivered in agreed-upon centres by the MOPH. Most recently, private companies are now capable of importing vaccines after the approval of the ministry. 

Older persons are the priority in the vaccine process in Lebanon

The vaccination plan in Lebanon prioritized high-risk populations through a multi-phase roll-out plan and persons older than 65 are part of the first phase (totalling around 600,143 persons 9.2% share of the population including refugees and migrants) (MOPH, 2021). To date, 125,232 persons above 75 and 156,086 between 65-74 years old registered to receive the vaccine on the vaccination platform (Impact Open Data, 2021) (less than half of older persons residing in Lebanon). 

To be able to get the vaccine, an older person can register through:

  1. An online platform for registration where the older person receives an invitation to choose the date and vaccination centre through SMS on his/her mobile phone. The process, viewed as simple to some persons older than 65, might be a challenge to others with low digital literacy. This is why family members assisted some in addition to awareness campaigns in the media to facilitate the process.
  2. Hotline of the MOPH through phone calls for persons who cannot register online.
  3. Municipalities and institutions.  

Lebanon's private sector is helping speed up the vaccination process

The rollout of the vaccination process was described as slow at the beginning of the first phase partly due to the low number of vaccines reaching Lebanon and the availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine only. The current number of vaccines (shots) given to those older than 75 for instance is 191,962 (Impact Open Data, 2021). Recently, Lebanon’s private sector is helping in speeding up the vaccination campaign as private pharmaceutical companies are now allowed to import doses of different approved vaccines and sell them to the community. In addition, the MOPH is aiming at vaccinating those above 65 who are registered on the platform in the next few months however, this is largely dependent on the availability of vaccines and timely delivery.