More than five months since the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Gaza Strip, the launch of the vaccine in the besieged coastal enclave has been widely distrusted and, in many cases, has been blatantly rejected.
According to data from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, about 98,000 people (less than 5% of the population of 2 million) have been vaccinated so far.
To date, authorities in the Gaza Strip have confirmed more than 115,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,089 deaths. Currently, 43 patients are receiving treatment in the hospital, of which 34 are in the intensive care unit (ICU).
69-year-old Hind al-Maqoosi is one of the hospitalized patients. Her daughter Sana said that the whole family was afraid of vaccinations.
“We think it does more harm than good,” Sana said at the bedside of her mother at the Palestine-Turkish Friendship Hospital in Gaza City.
“I was infected with COVID-19 but refused to get vaccinated afterwards,” Sana added. “The Ministry of Health says it is beneficial, but others say it is not. Infection with coronavirus disease is inevitable.”
Although health authorities have repeatedly emphasized the importance of taking necessary preventive measures, it is difficult to maintain physical distance in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. On weekends, the beaches of this enclave are usually crowded with families living under a 14-year Israeli-Egypt blockade, which restricts their movement out of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s health infrastructure was in poor condition due to the siege and was hit hard again in Israel’s last 11-day offensive in May, killing 260 Palestinians, including 66 children.
The explosion hit dozens of medical centers, including six hospitals and the main COVID-19 laboratory in Gaza, as well as the offices of the Ministry of Health. Two famous doctors-neurologists Moeen al-Aloul and Ayman Abu al-Ouf, director of internal medicine at Shifa Hospital and head of the COVID-19 ward-were among the victims.
Suspicion and misinformation
The spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Gaza Strip, Sohail Zakut, said that its health sector has long faced major systemic problems, including shortages of medicines, fuel and energy crises, which have affected The quality of healthcare available to people. population.
Throughout the pandemic, the ICRC provided support to the authorities and the Palestine Red Crescent Society through medical equipment, personal protective equipment and masks.
Countries including Russia and the United Arab Emirates have donated approximately 336,300 vaccine doses through the global COVAX program.
However, people’s reluctance to vaccinate has attracted attention and prompted the ICRC to launch a campaign with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Donations and Religious Affairs to raise awareness of the positive effects of vaccines.
“This campaign includes radio programs, billboards, videos, media and social media products. It will use reliable medical information, health advice, hadith and Quran verses to encourage and ensure that the people of Gaza are safe to vaccinate and provide Help to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Zakkout told Al Jazeera.
“We are concerned about the suspicion and misinformation spreading in Gaza,” she said, adding that the campaign also recruited local social media influencers and activists to help spread the message, aiming to support “the authorities’ efforts to encourage people to be vaccinated.”
Social media activist Maya Humaid said that one of the main reasons why people in Gaza are not vaccinated is fear.
She said: “A lot of people don’t even believe in the existence of this virus, but live by fatalism.” “After the war in May, people generally relaxed the precautions such as wearing masks. They said, “We didn’t die in the war, then. How can we die of the virus?'”
“Our role as influencers is to talk about vaccines and their benefits on our platform to eliminate rumors and spread the correct information,” she added. “We can’t force people to vaccinate, but every vaccination center has doctors and nurses who will first explain the safety and benefits and provide practical information before and after the vaccination.”
‘Vaccination is not death by vaccination’
The director of the Palestine-Turkish Friendship Hospital Coronavirus Ward, Dr. Marwan al-Hams, said that despite the lack of medical equipment and supplies due to the lockdown, Gaza “still has a cohesive health system” compared to other countries. area.
“Fortunately, our case-to-population ratio in the Gaza Strip is still low, but many people’s lack of response to the severity of COVID-19 — some categorically deny its existence — always leads to the spread of the disease. “He told Al Jazeera.
Al-Hams used the field hospital set up at the Rafah border crossing to isolate incoming passengers, which is the reason for delaying the surge in cases in the Gaza Strip, which first broke out in November 2020 with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The field hospital operated by al-Hams has been closed and the cases were initially transferred to the European Hospital in Khan Younis, which has 300 beds and 60 intensive care units.
“After the outbreak, every hospital in the entire Gaza Strip now has a COVID-19 ward,” Harms said. “There is no Delta variant yet, but we do worry that there will be a third wave,” he added, calling on residents of Gaza to be vaccinated.
“Vaccinations are not death by vaccination. They should not believe the misinformation circulating on social media, but should believe [get information] From a reliable source. “
Supplementary report by Hosam Salem in the Gaza Strip