Bennett hails agreement as a 'win-win' for both countries

After Palestinians reject deal, Israel to send 700,000 vaccines to South Korea

Under agreement with Seoul, Israel to deliver doses soon to expire and receive a similar number of shots in return at end of year from existing South Korean deal with Pfizer

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, December 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, December 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel will send South Korea some 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that are due to expire shortly in a deal signed between the two nations on Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced, calling the deal a “win-win” situation for both countries.

The deal comes weeks after the Palestinian Authority backed out of a similar agreement, saying the vaccine doses were too close to their expiration date despite Israel using the same batches to vaccinate its teens.

Under the deal with Seoul, Israel will supply doses for immediate use that are set to expire by the end of the month. In return, Israel will receive the same number of doses from South Korean orders later in the year.

“We continue to protect the lives of Israeli citizens,” Bennett said in a statement.

“The vaccines are efficient and life-saving — that’s a fact. We agreed to an exchange that is a win-win situation. South Korea will receive vaccines from our existing stocks and we will be repaid from their future orders,” Bennett said.

The agreement was negotiated by Israel’s Health Ministry together with the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council.

The statement said the agreement was made with the cooperation of Pfizer and came after several conversations in recent days between Bennett and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz attend a press conference at a Maccabi vaccine center in Holon on June 29 2021 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The agreement will go into effect in the next few days after South Korea inspects the vaccines, the statement said. The Korean vaccines will arrive in Israel sometime during the fourth quarter of 2021.

The agreement with Seoul comes after the Palestinian Authority signed, and then backed out of, a similar deal with Israel.

In June, Ramallah said it was canceling the agreement that would see some 1 million Pfizer vaccine doses handed over to the PA, citing the close expiration date of the doses. It said it had rejected a first batch of some 100,000 doses transferred to it that were set to expire at the end of June.

But the Health Ministry in Jerusalem expressed surprise at the move, saying in a statement that the doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation were “perfectly sound” and “identical in every way to the vaccines currently being given to citizens of Israel.”

Officials say it is standard practice to use vaccines whose expiration date is close, and so long as the date has not passed, manufacturers deem them perfectly safe.

A bottle of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses, which expires June 2021, seen after shots from the bottle were administered to Israeli teens on June 21, 2021. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

Israel has a reported 1.4 million doses set to expire at the end of July and Bennett is hoping to use as many of them as possible by getting 300,000 kids aged 12-15 vaccinated by July 9, leaving enough time for a second dose.

Israel purchased millions of vaccines from Pfizer and was among the first countries to receive them late last year, for an undisclosed amount. It inked a deal in April under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 million more doses, in case they are needed for booster shots. Those doses have yet to arrive.

Over 5.6 million people — out of Israel’s population of more than 9.3 million — have gotten at least one vaccine shot. Of those, close to 5.2 million have also received a second dose.

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