NEW YORK/BEIRUT, MARCH 26, 2021—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has begun vaccinating elderly people and medical personnel in nursing homes in Lebanon against COVID-19, following an agreement with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). Equitable access to vaccines is an essential component of ending the global pandemic, which has further exacerbated the country’s already struggling health care system and pushed many people to the brink during a period of major economic crisis.
“MSF is supporting the Lebanese efforts in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination to ensure access for the most vulnerable and at-risk people without discrimination,” said Julien Raickman, MSF head of mission in Lebanon. “Elderly people and health care workers are among the most at risk and were therefore identified as one of the priority population groups to be vaccinated. We welcome the efforts of the Lebanese authorities to guarantee access to vaccination for all people in Lebanon without any discrimination.”
To help ensure rapid access to vaccines for elderly people—many of whom are at high risk and often have difficulty accessing vaccination centers—MSF started deploying mobile vaccination teams across the country on March 19 to reach them where they are. To date, 1,050 people have been vaccinated by the mobile teams sent out by MSF in Baalbeck (Chlifa, El Sharawneh), Bekaa Valley (Hermel), South Lebanon (Abbasiyeh), and Mount Lebanon (Zouk and Hammana). The nursing home staff MSF is vaccinating aligns with the vaccine criteria defined by the MoPH in accordance with WHO recommendations.
“On Wednesday, we went to the Hôpital Psychiatrique de La Croix in Mount Lebanon area, one of the biggest elderly homes in Lebanon where elderly people with mental health illnesses are accommodated and cared for,” said Tania Hachem, MSF medical coordinator. “We had three teams on the ground to carefully explain the reasons for vaccination and the process. The interaction with patients and staff was very powerful. In the space of one day, we vaccinated nearly 400 people.”
To be eligible for vaccination by MSF, people need to be pre-registered on the online platform created by the health authorities. Before vaccinating patients, MSF mobile teams are confirming their pre-registration status as well as their consent. The vaccines are supplied by the health authorities.
Besides supporting the vaccination efforts, to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in Lebanon, MSF has temporarily turned its hospital in Bar Elias into a COVID-19 facility with a 20-bed capacity. Currently, all beds in the intensive care unit (ICU) are occupied and the in-patient department reached its limit capacity. In Zahle’s Elias Haraoui public hospital, MSF is supporting the COVID-19 ICU ward and has adapted and further expanded its emergency room activities to ensure effective triage of COVID-19 patients. MSF teams also carried out COVID-19 testing and health promotion activities in several locations across Lebanon.
MSF is an international, independent humanitarian organization providing medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, and exclusion from health care. MSF’s actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality. Lebanon is the first country in which MSF is vaccinating people against COVID-19.