By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians in Gaza began a limited COVID-19 vaccination programme on Monday after receiving doses donated by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, but a wider campaign could be further off as health officials await larger shipments.
Officials in the coastal enclave, run by the Islamist group Hamas and home to 2 million people, are administering the first of their 22,000 Russia Sputnik V doses to health workers. Patients with chronic diseases and those over 60 years old will follow.
The Gaza health ministry sent out text messages to urge those eligible to come and get their shots.
"I am proud the health sector was able to overcome this difficult time, with limited resources but great dedication," said Riyad Zanoun, a former Gaza health minister, after receiving his first dose.
Those vaccinated received instruction cards telling them to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
While Gaza health officials praised the vaccine launch as a turning point in their fight against the pandemic, they have not said when they expect to begin receiving larger shipments.
Both Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the coastal strip, citing security fears about Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Gaza received its first vaccine shipment last week after Israel approved a transfer of 2,000 doses that Russia had donated to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.
It has separately received 20,000 Russian doses from the UAE.
Health officials have said they need 2.6 million doses to inoculate all people over 16, assuming a two-dose regimen.
The PA says it has large supply deals with Russia and drugmaker AstraZeneca and plans to distribute them across the West Bank and Gaza, but doses have been slow to come.
The West Bank, home to 3.1 million Palestinians, has reported 1,361 deaths and 110,294 cases. Gaza has registered 543 deaths and more than 54,000 cases.
(Editing by Rami Ayyub and Alex Richardson)