World Bank threatens to suspend vaccine funding to Lebanon

A man waits his turn to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a nationwide vaccination campaign, at the Saint George Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Lebanon launched its inoculation campaign after receiving the first batch of the vaccine  28,500 doses from Brussels with more expected to arrive in the coming weeks. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A man waits his turn to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a nationwide vaccination campaign, at the Saint George Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Lebanon launched its inoculation campaign after receiving the first batch of the vaccine 28,500 doses from Brussels with more expected to arrive in the coming weeks. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BEIRUT – The World Bank threatened Tuesday to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon as it investigated suspected favoritism amid accusations that lawmakers were inoculated in parliament without prior approval.

A top Lebanese official supervising the vaccine rollout called it “outrageous” and threatened to step down amid an outcry on social media by Lebanese deeply mistrustful of their notoriously corrupt politicians.

The World Bank is a major financier of Lebanon’s coronavirus campaign and has approved $34 million to pay for vaccines for 2 million people. Suspending its assistance would have grave implications for the cash-strapped government, which is going through an unprecedented financial and economic crisis and reliant on foreign assistance.

The vaccination campaign began Feb. 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have signed an agreement for independent monitoring of the coronavirus vaccination campaign in Lebanon. Decades of corruption and mismanagement have brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and collapse.

“There were many violations that took place at vaccination centers,” said Sharaf Abu Sharaf, president of Lebanese Order of Physicians. He said the violations included vaccinating people who were not registered or not included in the first phase of the campaign.

Lebanese had been expecting the vaccine rollout to be riddled with corruption and violations, but news of the vaccination of lawmakers as a political group at a building used by the legislature provoked fresh outrage among the country's population Monday.

Abdul Rahman Bizri, who heads the committee supervising the vaccination campaign, had planned to resign in protest Tuesday but changed his mind later, saying his committee will hold a meeting Wednesday to follow up the case.