Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he expects no problems with the country’s ability to store millions of virus vaccines in freezing conditions and then reliably distribute them to the public, and claimed the end to the coronavirus crisis is in sight.
Netanyahu personally helped negotiate a deal with one of the companies developing a vaccine, US-based pharmaceutical Pfizer, but the product, which is still in the trial stage, has faced concerns because it needs to be stored at -70° Celsius (-94° Fahrenheit), including in transit.
“We aren’t just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here, but a very big torch,” Netanyahu said. He was speaking alongside Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a tour of the central logistics center set up to deal with the distribution of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines by various companies set to arrive in Israel in the coming months.
“It will take a bit more time, another few months,” Netanyahu said, but predicted that “we are on our way out of the pandemic.”
“We will have millions of vaccines and there will no logistic limitations to freezing [them],” he said. “This is a world-class factory that can receive the millions of vaccines that we are bringing to end the outbreak.”
There will be vaccines “for every citizen in Israel, more than one [dose] for those who want,” Netanyahu said. “From what I can see here we have no logistic limitation to store in deep freeze, and the distribution of these vaccines is very important news to end the outbreak in Israel.”
Netanyahu said a Health Ministry team would next week present recommendations regarding how the vaccines will be distributed.
Edelstein took a more measured tone, cautioning that having secured deals with various companies for vaccines, “now there are all the seemingly routine questions — transport, storage, distribution, the vaccination itself and prioritization. All of these things require a huge logistical effort.”
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, who joined Netanyahu and Edelstein at the Health Ministry-run Teva Sela Logistics Center in the central city of Shoham, warned that shipping, storing and distributing vaccines would pose challenges.
“The journey from the moment that a vaccine leaves the manufacturing factory until it reaches the arm of a vaccinated person includes several very complicated stages,” he said, according to the Ynet news website.
Levy said the issues on which decisions must be made include “the priority list, who to vaccinate and how to move, transport and reach the patient. The operation is complex.”
On Wednesday, Levy said that most of the vaccine shipments would arrive in the first half of 2021, but that a first batch could come as early as December, seemingly shoring up an unconfirmed television report on Monday.
Levy said the ministry was working on delineating “ethically, legally and medically” which parts of the population would receive a coronavirus vaccine first.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase coronavirus vaccine shots, days after the US pharmaceutical firm said data suggested its vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19.
As part of the agreement with Pfizer, Netanyahu said Israel would receive 8 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 4 million Israelis. Netanyahu expressed hope that Pfizer would begin supplying the vaccine in January, pending authorization from health officials in the United States and Israel.
Pursuing another avenue to procure vaccines, Netanyahu announced Friday that Israel was also close to signing a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase “millions” of doses of its vaccine, although the company said Thursday that additional research was needed on it.
If signed, it would be the third deal signed by Israel to receive vaccinations, following the deal with Pfizer as well as an earlier one with Moderna, another US company currently conducting human trials on its vaccine. Israel has also been in talks with Russia to receive its Sputnik V vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.
However, none of the deals guarantees a deadline for the arrival of the vaccines, and with mass global demand, it is still not clear how many doses Israel will get, and when.
Israel has also been working on a home-grown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates. Channel 12 reported Friday that it will likely be available to the public this summer.
Netanyahu’s visit to the logistics center came after the Health Ministry announced Thursday morning that the number of new daily coronavirus cases diagnosed in Israel had risen to over a thousand, a level not seen in over a month.
The milestone is the latest indication that the spread of the virus may be re-accelerating, even as the government pushes ahead with reopening the country from its second lockdown.
There were 1,068 new cases diagnosed on Wednesday — 1.8 percent of the 60,463 test results returned, the ministry figures showed. The last time Israel saw daily cases above a thousand was October 22.
After topping 9,000 on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three weeks, the active number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 9,422 out of a total of 332,317 cases since the start of the pandemic.