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Lebanon: MSF opens new COVID-19 vaccination centers in Bar Elias and Tripoli
Beirut, 17 June 2021 - Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is scaling up its COVID-19 vaccination operations in Lebanon, with the opening of two new COVID-19 vaccination centres in Tripoli and Bar Elias.
Ensuring access to vaccines for the most vulnerable
“We see the opening of these facilities as the next step to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine to more people in Lebanon” explains Zeina Ghantous MSF Deputy Head of Mission.
“Even if the number of COVID-19 patients in the country is not as high as what it was at the beginning of 2021, there are still a lot of efforts to do to avoid another wave of COVID-19 cases.”
MSF started its COVID-19 vaccination activities in Lebanon on March 19, 2021, following an agreement with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).
The organization’s main goal is to ensure access to the vaccine for the most vulnerable and at-risk populations.
“Many of the elderly population or frontline workers in Lebanese nursing homes lack the ability to move freely or easily due to their health condition or because of accessibility reasons” explains Caline Rhayem, MSF Deputy Medical Coordinator in Lebanon, “so we first started by deploying mobile teams who could come to them instead”.
Over the past three months, MSF mobile teams have visited more than 30 nursing homes across Lebanon.
"The opening of the COVID-19 vaccination centers in Tripoli and Bar Elias will allow us to vaccinate even more people now"
The organization has also deployed mobile teams in several prisons (Zahle, Roumieh and Tripoli), to conduct vaccination activities there too, with the ambition to reach another category of people with no or difficult access to COVID-19 vaccination.
More than 5,000 people have already been vaccinated by MSF mobile teams across the country.
“The opening of the COVID-19 vaccination centers in Tripoli and Bar Elias will allow us to vaccinate even more people now”, says Zeina Ghantous, “because we’ll be working with both mobile teams and fixed sites that people can come to, to get vaccinated.”
To be eligible for vaccination in one of these centres, people need to be pre-registered on the online platform created by the Ministry of Public Health.
The vaccines are supplied by the health authorities, but the vaccination activities are conducted by MSF staff. Before vaccinating patients, MSF teams are confirming their pre-registration status as well as their consent.
Tackling the issue of vaccine hesitancy
On top of the COVID-19 vaccination, MSF is also deploying health promotion teams across the country, to tackle the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to combat disinformation about COVID-19 vaccination in Lebanon” says Houssam Al Rahabi, MSF Health Promotion Supervisor in the vaccination response team.
"Our role is to provide them with the right information and to reassure them. We need to listen to people’s fears and concerns, instead of just telling them to get vaccinated."
He and his teams inform people about the vaccine and explain to them how to get registered on the platform set up by local health authorities to have access to it.
When they visit homes and camps, they also address people’s questions and fears about COVID-19.
“A lot of people are still scared to get vaccinated. They wonder if getting a certain type of vaccine over another makes a difference, if they will suffer from side effects… Our role is to provide them with the right information and to reassure them. We need to listen to people’s fears and concerns, instead of just telling them to get vaccinated."
"In that regard, health promotion and vaccination go very much hand in hand, and one cannot really function or be effective without the other. We really need to continue both activities and strive at all levels, if we want to ensure that COVID-19 is behind us”.
MSF has been actively contributing to the efforts to tackle COVID-19 in Lebanon since the beginning of the pandemic.
Since March 2020, the organization’s priority has been to ensure access to care for vulnerable communities in the country, through the continuation of most of its regular medical programs but also by developing specific COVID-19 activities, going from COVID-19 testing, to isolation, to treatment and to vaccination across the country.