Health Ministry criticizes vaccine budget delay; Pfizer said miffed as well

Infighting between Likud, Blue and White has delayed discussing new purchases; coronavirus czar Nachman Ash worries failure to secure funds could threaten deals

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Tuesday expressed concern over the government’s failure to approve the purchase of new vaccines, saying there “are only enough vaccines for the current round of vaccinations, and there is a need to purchase additional vaccines.”

By “current round,” the ministry appeared to be referring to the remaining eligible population.

A cabinet meeting set for Monday was called off this week amid fresh squabbling between the Likud and Blue and White parties over the appointment of a permanent justice minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to bring up for a vote Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s choice for justice minister, a post Gantz is currently filling. His interim appointment ends on Thursday, after which time Israel will have no justice minister if no appointment is approved. In response, Gantz refused to convene the cabinet to discuss the vaccine acquisition.

“Thanks to the vaccines, Israel is the first to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. “The procurement we want to make will ensure that Israel will continue to be the most protected country in the world from the coronavirus. One of the most important purchases a country can make at this time should not be taken lightly.”

According to an Army Radio report Tuesday, Pfizer representatives were also frustrated with the delay in cabinet approval and demanded an explanation.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The cabinet had been set to discuss an NIS 7 billion ($2.1 billion) spending package on coronavirus vaccines. The report said Pfizer representatives “do not know what to tell their supervisors when they wake up in America.”

The director-general of the Health Ministry Chezy Levy also expressed concerns on Tuesday, telling the Ynet news site that although there is currently no shortage of shots, the purchase was intended to “get ahead of the rest of the world.”

Although currently there are enough vaccines to fully inoculate the remaining unvaccinated population, and to give a single shot to recovered COVID-19 patients, as health officials have recommended doing, Levy emphasized the need to acquire additional doses to combat the possibility of new strains, or to provide third doses in the future.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Flash90)

“The whole world is in an arms race to purchase vaccines which are in short supply,”  Levy said.

“We need to be able to vaccinate 9 million citizens, because we’re assuming that we also need to vaccinate children. And if we need to produce new vaccines against the variants, these also must be available. So we negotiated with several companies, and that is what we asked the government to approve,” he said.

Levy went on to explain that currently the it is not known how many vaccine boosters individuals may need to stay protected in the long run.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the coronavirus department at Ziv hospital in Safed, Northern Israel, December 24, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Nachman Ash explained on 103FM Radio that the budget approval was necessary to secure the deals with vaccination companies.

“Are we at risk? Certainly, it’s possible that if we don’t finalize the agreements with the various companies and if we do not have the budget for it someone may take our place or there may be other effects. The world is complicated, we need to secure ourselves.”

Channel 13 news reported on Monday that Netanyahu spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about the delay in securing the budget. According to Channel 13, Netanyahu asked Bourla to be patient while Israel agrees on the procurement of additional vaccines.

The canceled cabinet meeting would have been the first since the March 23 elections, the fourth in two years, which were called after the Likud-Blue and White unity government collapsed in December.

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