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Special ed staff to get vaccine next week, averting strike

Top health official: In deal with Pfizer, Israel to share public data only

Sharon Alroy-Preis says no private info will be given to pharma giant as part of huge vaccines deal; data will be used to assess when herd immunity achieved, infection curve broken

An Israeli woman receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a drive in vaccination center in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Jan. 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israeli woman receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a drive in vaccination center in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Jan. 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

A health official responded on Friday to a deal with Pfizer that would enable all Israeli citizens over the age of 16 to be inoculated by the end of March in return for statistical data, saying the pharmaceutical giant will receive only information that is provided to the public.

“All the information we’ll give to Pfizer is information that we make available to the public,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s acting head of public health, told Channel 12 news. “How many cases, how many serious cases, how many fatalities, how many vaccinated.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that Pfizer had agreed to send millions of additional doses to Israel, which will serve as a “model country” for the pharmaceutical giant, offering statistical data on the vaccine’s effectiveness. He said the huge influx of vaccine doses would allow Israel to be the first country in the world to get out of the coronavirus crisis.

The data-sharing with Pfizer was reportedly a tradeoff for the company’s willingness to sell so many vaccines to Israel ahead of other countries. Israel has a highly digitized health system which operates via four national clinic networks.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

According to the Globes financial newspaper, the World Health Organization has been involved in assessments of Israel’s suitability for the pilot program. Channel 13 news reported that Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer was also involved in the agreement which included Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla convincing the pharmaceutical giant’s board that Israel would serve as an appropriate testing ground for a widespread inoculation program.

Alroy-Preis said Pfizer would not receive information on the previous health conditions of those vaccinated, but that data on those who suffered side-effects close to the time of vaccination would be made publicly available and provided to Pfizer.

“There is no risk of invasion of privacy; no private data is being given over,” Alroy-Preis said.

When questioned about the issue of Israel giving up highly valuable data on the health of its citizens, Alroy-Preis said again that “we insisted that we would only transfer information that we make available to the public.”

The health official said the Israeli vaccination program would provide valuable information of international relevance about the stage at which herd immunity can be achieved.

“We want to see whether we can vaccinate all the public that wants to be vaccinated, achieve herd immunity, and at what stage do we break the curve [of infections],” Alroy-Preis said.

According to official Health Ministry data, more than 70% of those aged 60 and over have now been vaccinated in Israel. The total number of Israelis inoculated stands at around 1.7 million, giving Israel by far the highest per capita vaccination rate in the world.

Amram Cohen gives a ‘thumbs up’ after receiving a Pfizer COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, Jan. 8, 2021 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The country will start administering second doses of the vaccine on Sunday, three weeks after the program kicked off.

The Health Ministry announced on Friday that teaching staff in the special education system would be prioritized for first doses next week, seemingly averting a strike by the teachers’ union.

Additionally, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said last week that the government will work to prioritize all teachers in its coronavirus vaccination efforts, in a stark about-face from previous policy that saw him act against municipalities who inoculated hundreds of school staff.

Israel’s vaccination campaign is in full swing, even as the country grapples with a surge in cases and a tightened third lockdown.

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