This is the first World Bank-financed operation to fund the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. The financing will provide vaccines for over 2 million individuals. The vaccines are expected to arrive in Lebanon by early February 2021.

In addition to the human toll, the pandemic is exacerbating the economic crisis in the aftermath of the Port of Beirut explosion last August.

This vaccine rollout will target priority groups: high risk health workers, population above 65 years of age, epidemiological and surveillance staff, and population between 55-64 years with co-morbidities, according to a press release by the World Bank.

By prioritizing these groups, the country's vaccination program has the potential to reduce the consequences of the pandemic, even in conditions of supply constraints.

"Fair, broad, and fast access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to protecting lives and supporting economic recovery," said World Bank Group President David Malpass. "This is an important first operation and I look forward to continuing our support to many more countries in their vaccination efforts. Our goal remains to mitigate the impact of the pandemic in order to save lives and improve livelihoods."

This latest support for Lebanon draws on World Bank's previous work supporting vaccination efforts over the decades, including polio, measles and Ebola. It combines financing, global expertise, and in-country experience across sectors to build more resilience, ahead of future health emergencies.

The country's health sector is severely overstretched. As of January 17, 2021, the country had a total of 252,812 confirmed cases and 1,865 deaths. Test positivity rate for the last 14 days is high at 17 percent (compared to the WHO suggested maximum rate of 5 percent).

In preparing for vaccine deployment, the Government of Lebanon, with the support of the World Bank and other partners, has conducted the COVID-19 vaccine readiness assessment, established a National COVID-19 Vaccine Committee, and prepared a draft National COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP). The draft NVDP has all the key elements recommended by the World Health Organization and represents a central part of Lebanon's vaccination readiness.

The NVDP will also include key readiness actions, namely: the development of the sub-plan for vaccine deployment; the most critical regulatory actions for vaccine rollout; the development of an online system for pre-registration of eligible priority groups; the development and dissemination of Standard Operating Procedures for vaccine storage, distribution and delivery; training and supervision of vaccinators and ensuring grievance reporting mechanisms related to COVID-19 vaccination. A public communication campaign will also be launched to provide the population with information on eligibility, vaccination sites, timing, vaccine safety and efficacy.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the World Bank had in March 2020 allowed the same Lebanon Health Resilience Project to help strengthen the Ministry of Public Health's capacity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by equipping public hospitals and increasing their ability to test and treat suspected cases. Fast track procurement through local and international suppliers, following World Bank procedures and in coordination with UN agencies, has since helped procure critically needed goods and equipment to 45 hospitals. These included Personal Protective Equipment, 60 ventilators, 10 PCR machines and testing kits. In addition, 50 Intensive Care Units (ICU) were equipped with ICU beds and their associated equipment including vital signs monitors, syringe pumps, suction pumps, infusion pumps, defibrillators, and ECG machines. The procurement of additional goods and equipment is currently underway to further increase the capacity and the number of ICU beds up to 180 beds with associated equipment.

The Lebanon Health Resilience Project is financed through a US$95.8 million contribution from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a US$24.2 million grant from the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF). Launched in 2016, the GCFF provides concessional financing to middle income countries hosting large numbers of refugees at rates usually reserved for the poorest countries