Ex-head developer of Israeli COVID vaccine slams Genesis Prize for Pfizer CEO

Prof. Shmuel Shapira, former head of the Defense Ministry’s Biological Institute, calls pharma giant’s vaccines ‘mediocre,’ says company only wanted to ‘rake in billions’

Director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on August 6, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on August 6, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

The former head developer of Israel’s experimental coronavirus vaccine lashed out on Wednesday against the decision to award the prestigious Genesis Prize to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Taking to Twitter, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), called the decision “pathetic.”

He also called the pharma giant’s COVID-19 vaccine “mediocre” and effective only in the “short term.”

“There are much more prominent Israeli scientists,” Shapira said in an interview with Chanel 12.

“He’s the CEO of a company that did not do this from the goodness of their heart, but merely to rake in billions,” he said. “It is a mediocre vaccine — I was vaccinated three times and got sick. A lot of people got infected after they were vaccinated. Calling the vaccine moderately effective is pretty generous.”

Shapira said that he understood why Israel rushed to sign a deal with Pfizer for its vaccine at the start of the pandemic, but that “in the long term their vaccines were proven to be less effective.”

“There are other vaccines that are far more effective. There are countries with lower vaccination rates that bore [the pandemic] just fine,” he said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

Asked if his comments stemmed from bitterness over Israel not fully embracing the Biological Institute’s vaccine, Shapira shrugged off the suggestion, adding that the vaccine was proven to be good, but “it was the bureaucracy that did us in.”

“The institute’s vaccine was very successful and even now it is being tested,” he said. “The latest testing shows it is also effective against the Omicron variant. The bureaucracy has failed us repeatedly.”

The journey to develop the Israeli vaccine BriLife has been bumpy and has lagged significantly behind that of its international competitors.

The IIBR was tapped early in the pandemic, in February 2020, to develop a vaccine and seemed to be making significant progress until efforts were reportedly slowed and Israel launched its mass vaccination campaign mostly with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot last December.

Sheba Medical Center nurse Hala Litwin injects a dose into Israel’s first human test subject, Segev Harel, as part of trials for Israel’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, BriLife, on November 1, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The approval of several international vaccines and Israel’s rapid inoculation campaign raised questions about the need for a domestically produced option that would be ready for distribution long after its competitors.

Last May, Shapira stepped down from the directorship of the Biological Institute, in a surprise turn of events that cast doubt on the future of the local inoculation venture. In a new book, he claimed that heavy government interference, unexplained regulatory delays, and some level of “sabotage” were also at play.

In July, IIBR announced that it had inked a memorandum of understanding with the Nasdaq-traded NRx Pharmaceuticals to complete clinical trials of the homegrown vaccine.

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