BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Covid-19 vaccination drive in Lebanon erupted in scandal on Tuesday when 16 lawmakers received shots inside the parliament building, violating regulations aimed at keeping the process fair and transparent.
The vaccination program, financed by $34 million from the World Bank, began earlier this month when the country received its first doses. To try to ensure accountability in a country known for corner-cutting and corruption, the government is requiring citizens to register for vaccination through an online portal. Medical workers and people over 75 are supposed to get the shots first, administered in official vaccination centers.
On Tuesday, Adnan Daher, the parliamentary secretary, confirmed to reporters that 16 lawmakers had received shots. He said the lawmakers were all of the proper age and their turn to be vaccinated had come. But according to lists compiled by local news outlets, about half were younger than 75.
Elie Ferzli, a lawmaker in his early 70s who got the shot on Tuesday, denied in a telephone interview that he had jumped the line, and said he was “shocked” by the public outrage over the shots.
“I have meetings every day in the parliament, so how am I supposed to keep doing my job normally and helping people?” he said.
Officials overseeing the vaccination program, though, cried foul.
Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, the head of Lebanon’s vaccine committee, threatened to resign over what he condemned as “a violation we cannot stay silent about,” but he decided to stay on.
Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank’s director for the region that includes Lebanon, wrote on Twitter before the reports were confirmed that letting lawmakers jump the line was “not in line with the national plan,” and added, “Everyone has to register and wait for their turn!”
He said that if the rules were broken, the World Bank could suspend its support for the vaccination program and Lebanon’s Covid-19 response generally.
A World Bank spokeswoman did not respond to a query on Tuesday about how the bank would handle the incident.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.