The Financial Times’ David Crow mentioned during his Friday interview with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Pfizer chief Albert Bourla: ‘We are the most efficient vaccine machine’) a recent report in the FT that recounted how revelers in Tel Aviv’s bars now exclaim “to Pfizer, l’chaim” when toasting their drinks. “I have heard of it,” Bourla responded, and was “beaming with pride.”
Crow notes that Pfizer’s popularity in Israel is rooted in the deal Bourla struck with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whereby Pfizer guaranteed sufficient supplies of its vaccine for the entire population of Israel, in exchange for clinical data on the results.
What made him decide on Israel? Crow wants to know. Bourla explains that he was looking for a country with a small population that also offered good data collection systems. They considered Greece, but discovered that its medical digital system “was not up to scratch.” He considered Sweden, but was concerned about staring a brawl among the rest of the EU countries.
“The biggest thing that became clear was Bibi was on top of everything, he knew everything,” Bourla told the FT. “He called me 30 times, asking: ‘What about young people … What are you doing about the South African variant?’ I’m sure he was doing it for his people, but I’m also sure he was thinking: ‘It could help me politically.’”
Crow quipped that it turned out to be a miscalculation, seeing as Netanyahu ended up losing power. “Maybe,” says Bourla. “But he did it very well.”
Bourla is the son of Holocaust survivors. “I was never vocal about these things,” he told Crow. “Even my closest friends knew only a little of it.”
In 1945, his father came out of hiding in Athens after the war, only to discover that his parents and two of his three siblings were among the tens of thousands of Saloniki Jews who had perished in the death camps. Bourla’s mother narrowly escaped being executed by a firing squad, after her Christian brother-in-law gave “all his money to pay bribes.”
Bourla resisted Crow’s pressure to share his family’s suffering, insisting this was his “mother’s history,” not his. “I don’t want it to become folklore because, it may be inspirational or not, but … she was the one who was arrested, she was sexually abused, and physically abused at 17, 18 years old.”
“‘Life is miraculous,’ she told me. ‘I was in front of a firing squad seconds before they pulled the trigger, and I survived. And look at me now. Nothing is impossible. You can do anything you want,’” Bourla recalled. As to his father, he mused: “What I got from my dad was to identify what can go wrong.”