Following a Tuesday night meeting between the Israeli Health Ministry and representatives of Pfizer Israel, it was agreed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to hold a brief conversation with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Wednesday, to ask Bourla to reconsider selling Israel several million doses of his company’s new coronavirus vaccine.
On Monday, the pharmaceutical giant announced that the vaccine it is developing against the coronavirus has been found to be effective in preventing infection among 90% of the subjects in a test that involved 40 thousand subjects.
Globes reported on Monday that Israel had gambled on the losing horse in the race between two pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Moderna. Israel paid Moderna about NIS 200 million ($60 million), without any guarantees that it would receive the vaccine if one were indeed developed. In the end, the Israeli Treasury was forced to approve the deal without a tender, despite a “long line of risks” pointed out by the former Accountant General Roni Hezekiah.
The vaccine, which Pfizer is working on in collaboration with the German company Biotech, is in the third phase of its clinical trial.
The global Pfizer company on Tuesday told its branch in Israel that because the Health Ministry is delaying the closing of a deal to purchase its vaccine, it is moving on to other countries. Israel is desperately interested in purchasing seven million vaccine doses, at a cost of about one billion shekels (just under $300 million).
Both the health system and government officials are criticizing the Health Ministry for delaying a deal with Pfizer for two months while pushing one with Moderna. And there’s another major problem, besides the delay in sealing the deal with the pharmaceutical giant – it turns out that only ten days ago a work team has been picked to absorb corona vaccines.
A source in the health system told Kan 11 News that so far there is no real preparation in Israel for how the vaccine will be stored, never mind distributed. The vaccines of both Moderna and Pfizer present a logistical nightmare, seeing as they require refrigeration at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), and so far no work has been done in the Ministry of Health to address this issue.
It should be reiterated: Israel has no suitable infrastructure at all for the storage and transmission of a high volume of vaccines that require such cooling conditions.
A source in the health system told Kan 11 that in his estimation, after the conversation between Netanyahu and Bourla, the chances increase that an agreement will soon be signed between Pfizer and the Israeli government. But at the moment Netanyahu might as well sign a deal to import a billion unicorns – the Israeli system cannot handle either shipment.
The Health Ministry issued a statement Tuesday, saying: “The entire health system at the highest levels has been mobilized for several months to deal with all the various aspects of the vaccine: procurement, contracts, transportation, storage – until the vaccine itself is injected into population masses. We deal concurrently with the relevant companies regarding the entire logistics and transportation issues.”
They said nothing about storing billions of vaccines at a temperature of minus 94 Fahrenheit.