Political Fighting Leads to Watered-Down Vaccine Purchase by Israel
Details hidden from public after Israel buys 15 million more doses of vaccines against the coronavirus from Pfizer and Moderna
Israel’s government acquired its latest batch of vaccines against the coronavirus, securing a total of 15 million new doses from both Pfizer and Moderna as it continues to outpace the world with its inoculation rate.
The agreements were reached on Monday following weeks of political quarreling between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, who delayed the purchase’s approval after Netanyahu blocked Gantz’s justice minister appointee. Gantz also serves as the country’s defense minister.
The separate deals, amounting to NIS 1.7 billion, or $522 million, will be spread out through the end of 2023 and include an option of adding 30 million more doses if needed, Israel’s Channel 12 News reported on Tuesday.
Some of us felt the last procurement round was excessive, and that we bought too many vaccines, but when we asked for more details about this latest buy, the Health Ministry refused
The pharmaceutical companies also committed to supplying Israel with the most up-to-date versions of their vaccines, in case any advancements made in the vaccine’s makeup provide the necessary protection from new variants of the coronavirus.
“Some of us felt the last procurement round was excessive, and that we bought too many vaccines, but when we asked for more details about this latest buy, the Health Ministry refused,” Nadav Davidovitch, chair of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians and a member of the special coronavirus task force advising the Cabinet, told The Media Line.
According to a government ordinance, all discussions held by Israel’s coronavirus cabinet are under seal for the next 30 years.
The contracts signed between Jerusalem and vaccine distributors also are not officially revealed.
“The amount and cost of these purchases are not divulged to us, only to the health minister, his director-general and the Cabinet,” says Davidovitch, an epidemiologist who heads the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University.
“The deal seems fair, it’s a good thing it was finalized,” he said. “But this whole secrecy issue, regarding our professional discussions, is unnecessary and counterproductive. I keep telling them it will only engender more fake news and fears and public mistrust.”
Nearly five million Israelis out of a total population of 9 million already have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, a feat that has allowed the state to reopen most of the economy and schools.
Only a few dozen new infections per day have been reported recently, with the test positivity rate remaining well under 1% for over a week.
With sporting events and entertainment venues also gradually returning to normal, and the mandate to wear masks outdoors rescinded earlier this week, Israel, barring unexpected setbacks, has practically put the pandemic in its rearview mirror.
“We’re working under the assumption there will not be a shortage of inoculations in Israel,” Davidovitch said. “We haven’t held meetings to discuss what to do in case not enough shots arrive, even over the past few weeks when the political tensions were palpable.”
While Netanyahu initially wanted to acquire 30 million additional vaccines, his unity government partner Gantz refused to convene the nation’s Cabinet in order to hold a vote on the proposal, citing the prime minister’s unprecedented interference in the appointment of Israel’s justice minister.
In a historic first, the crucial position has remained vacant for weeks as Netanyahu, who is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, hopes to hold out and nominate a more amenable candidate in the future, if he can form a new coalition government in the coming days.
We haven’t held meetings to discuss what to do in case not enough shots arrive, even over the past few weeks when the political tensions were palpable
On Tuesday, Netanyahu held a press conference blasting Gantz for his “recklessness.”
“We’re preparing for another vaccination push in about six months; we assume by then vaccines will be approved for children,” the prime minister said. “I’ve never seen such disregard for people’s health, I had to really fight [Gantz] for these inoculations. It’s a scandal.”
Despite the bad blood between the two, Davidovitch says health officials “knew all along this so-called crisis would eventually be resolved. There was no risk of not signing these contracts.”
Monday’s compromise includes only half the amount of vaccine doses that Netanyahu wanted to purchase, which Davidovitch and others say is more than adequate.
“This is designated mostly for children, once the clinical tests are finalized and everything is approved. It’s a good decision. I’m glad it was made,” he said.
The Health Ministry did not respond to The Media Line’s request for comment.