Plan for COVID-19 vaccine certificates underway in Lebanon

The certificate will hold details such as the patient’s name, date of birth, date of vaccination, type of vaccine, and the serial number of the vaccine: official

  
A health worker is pictured at a drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing site in Saint George Hospital University Medical center, in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. Image used for illustrator purpose

A health worker is pictured at a drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing site in Saint George Hospital University Medical center, in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. Image used for illustrator purpose

REUTERS/Ayat Basma

BEIRUT: The Health Ministry has established a new COVID-19 vaccine committee to “fix the gaps” in the national vaccination plan, particularly in regard to vaccination certificates, which have so far not been fully functioning despite the growing number of inoculated individuals in Lebanon.

Dr. Petra Khoury, a member of the Lebanese executive vaccine committee and health adviser to the prime minister, explained that there had been reports of issues from patients trying to access vaccine certificates, for those who are fully inoculated against COVID-19.

“We identified there was a problem with the way the certificate was set in the mechanism and the way of getting the certificates, and we are trying to create a new way of getting the certificates,” Khoury told The Daily Star Monday.

Just last weekend the Health Ministry attempted to clarify that the approved vaccination certificate was accessible through the government’s registration e-platform Impact, after individuals were turning up at the Health Ministry to get papers stamped instead.

At present, users can log into their Impact profile to access their health data, and the certificate. It is accessible through a QR code – a black and white machine-readable graphic code that holds data – but it has been failing to present the document.

The certificate will hold details such as the patient’s name, date of birth, date of vaccination, type of vaccine, and the serial number of the vaccine, Khoury explained.

In theory, individuals would then have their vaccination details accessible through the QR code, presented either on a smartphone or by printing off the page - similar to a flight boarding pass – which can then be scanned to access the document.

“The other issue with certificates is if you register your name [for the vaccine] in Arabic, the certificate comes out in Arabic, and if you register in English, it comes out in English,” Khoury said.

Certificates written in Arabic could cause issues for people traveling abroad, Khoury added, and that the ministry has received lots of requests for certificates to be translated, “now that air travel has picked up.”

As a result of the mishaps, Khoury said that the committee was working to standardize the system for all vaccinated residents in Lebanon.

Vaccine certificates have become an issue for governments globally as more countries are enjoying high rates of inoculations. For example, the British government is toying with COVID-19 certificates to allow access to mass events, like football games or music festivals.

In Israel, which is boasting the highest vaccination rate in the world, the government has introduced a “green pass” system, which serves as an entry permit to venues such as gyms and restaurants.

In the US, the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its public health guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing the resumption of domestic travel and removing the need to get tested before or after travel, or self-quarantining on return from abroad.

Lebanon has been rolling out vaccines since February, and just over 1 percent of the population, 87,345 people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Last week, the Health Ministry announced that incoming travelers to Lebanon, either via land, sea, or air, would no longer need to take a PCR coronavirus test on arrival if they have received both doses of a vaccine at least 15 days prior.

One such area of the new executive committee’s work is the introduction of measurable vaccine targets. Already this week the ministry publicized its aim to send out booking invitations to all those aged over 70 for a vaccine appointment by Monday evening, and Khoury said they issued around 60,000 notifications.

Lebanon has been receiving weekly shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the past eight weeks, alongside a shipment in March of 33,600 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines arranged via COVAX, the WHO-led platform to provide equitable vaccine access to middle- and lower-income countries.

However, since the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines, which was also smaller than expected, no further vaccines have been sent from COVAX. The Health Ministry had previously stated that 92,000 jabs would be arriving in the first shipment, and that between mid-March and mid-April 192,000 doses would be shipped to Lebanon.

Khoury confirmed that Covax have not been delivering vaccines as expected, and added that “they [Covax] have not been communicating at all.”

The unexpectedly small number of vaccines from Covax has held up decisions within the ministry regarding when to decide a timetable for Lebanon to achieve vaccine targets, Khoury explained.

“We are waiting to get confirmation of the supply, and once we can confirm the supply of vaccines, we will share milestones each week.”

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