Health ministry Director-General Prof. Hezi Levy responded on Wednesday to allegations of irregularities in the purchase of corona vaccines and told Reshet Bet radio: “We prepared the contracts to be signed with the vaccine companies, not just Pfizer, but the budget approval was delayed. We did receive vaccines from Pfizer ‘on our tab’ to continue the vaccination drive, but, unfortunately, this thing is not over yet and we have warned about it.”
Levy added that he believes that Israel must acquire more vaccines or at least sign contracts to purchase them for the next two years.
On Tuesday, Kan 11 news reported that Yahli Rotenberg, the accountant-general of the finance ministry attacked the health ministry, accusing it of serious irregularities in purchasing vaccines without signing proper agreements. Rotenberg sent a furious letter to the health ministry’s director-general and its legal counsel, questioning the legality of how the purchase of vaccines in general and of Pfizer vaccines, in particular, have been conducted in recent months. He enumerates a series of events that he argued raise serious questions.
Sources involved in the purchase of additional vaccines on Wednesday morning responded to the claim that Israel may be stuck with excess vaccine doses and told Israel Hayom that it will be necessary to vaccinate the entire population every six months. As to the criticism of the high cost of the vaccines, which several Israeli news outlets put at NIS 3.5 billion ($1.05 billion), those same sources said the real cost is lower.
But they supported the position that the purchase of 36 million new vaccines is needed, because the vaccine may be given every six months, in two doses each time, with the expectation that in the near future young people under 16 will also be vaccinated.
Calcalist responded on Wednesday that vaccine procurement operations were made in a hurry, betting on which company would be the first to succeed in the clinical trials, before the worldwide rush to buy any approved vaccine dose. The financial daily said that the secret agreements signed behind closed doors and published with large redacted segments, passed public scrutiny once, maybe, especially since PM Netanyahu and his government bet right. But those same shenanigans won’t escape scrutiny a second time, and will only add fuel to the fire of distrust that is already burning in large parts of the Israeli public.
Prof. Levy explained: “We buy from several technologies. You can’t buy only one technology and if God forbid, something happens, we won’t be able to vaccinate. It’s a question of taking economic risks, but each week of a lockdown also costs 3.5 billion shekel.”
He added: “You must see the background to these decisions – there is a race all over the world and Europe is starting to talk about restricting exports. Israel will do well to acquire vaccines or sign contracts for them for both 2022 and 2023. This is what we did in the middle of 2020 when we did not yet know that any vaccines would receive scientific approval.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the health ministry stated that there are not enough vaccines for children over the age of 12. The ministry’s statement reads: “Following false reports about the number of vaccines in Israel, we seek to clarify while maintaining Israel’s confidentiality agreements with vaccine companies, that in Israel there is enough stock only for the current round of vaccinations. There is a vital need to purchase millions of additional vaccines to prepare for various scenarios such as a booster dose, vaccinating children over the age of 12 (after studies and the FDA approve it), and the provision of vaccines that are resistant to variants that may yet arrive.”
Meanwhile, the health ministry’s central virus laboratory published on Wednesday a study summarizing the strains that have existed in Israel so far from the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, until January 2021. Among the findings is an Israeli variant, “which is uncommon and has no clinical or epidemiological significance, and is not related to or causes widespread infection, severe morbidity, or an effect on vaccine efficacy. The Israeli variant appeared in samples from July but is disappearing and the evidence of its existence is diminishing.”
The British variant is the dominant one in morbidity in Israel and has appeared starting in February 2021 in more than 90% of the tested sequences.