Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Israel has reached an agreement with Pfizer to bring forward the delivery of more COVID-19 vaccines to August 1, after scrambling to secure the purchase of a new batch since the country’s existing stock expires at the end of July.
At the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett said he spoke Saturday with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and struck the deal, which he said “guarantees us a continued stock of vaccines in Israel.”
The Walla news site said that as part of the deal, some 200,000 vaccines will be sent to the Jewish state.
Calling on teenagers to get vaccinated, Bennett stressed that “there are vaccines for everyone” — for both the first shot and for the second, since the new shipment will arrive just as the existing batch of vaccines expires.
Bennett added that the government was working on a policy that would enable mass events to continue to be held without causing mass infections. There were no further details on the matter, although it has been previously reported that some form of the Green Pass system may return, granting access to certain events and venues only to the vaccinated and recovered.
Israel’s vaccination campaign is currently only open to ages 12 and up. Officials okayed the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in early June, but authorities only began encouraging vaccinations for the age group at the end of last month in response to rising case numbers.
According to the Walla news site, some 29 percent of the 12-15 age group have been vaccinated, along with some 11% who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered. This brings the immunity rate to some 40% — below the 50% the Health Ministry had hoped for.
Israel had been scrambling to use up or trade away over 1 million doses of the vaccine that expire at the end of July.
Last week, a plane carrying some 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine took off for South Korea, as part of a deal that will see Seoul send fresh vaccines in exchange later in the year. Those doses are also set to expire by month’s end, and Korean officials have quickly moved to dispatch them to distribution centers.
Bennett on Sunday thanked Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for helping secure the “world-first” deal, and said Israel would receive those 700,000 doses in the coming months.
The resurgence of the virus due to the Delta variant has become a major issue for Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after cases dwindled as a result of mass vaccination, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.
The variant is thought to be more capable of infecting even vaccinated individuals, though in most cases it causes only mild illness for the inoculated.
The Health Ministry said Sunday that 261 new cases had been detected the day before, with 0.6% of tests coming back positive.
There were 4,130 active cases and 44 serious cases. The death toll was at 6,436 after five deaths were confirmed in the last few days, following almost two weeks of no fatalities.
The ministry said 5,728,526 Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, of whom 5,190,709 have been fully vaccinated.