Israel has reached a secret agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech, under which the pharmaceutical company will immediately provide shipments of immunizations to the Jewish state if Israel declares that it is administering booster COVID-19 shots, a report said Monday.
Channel 13 news said the agreement was reached following intense talks between Health Ministry representatives and Pfizer-BioNTech, as well as personal conversations between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
It would supplant existing deals on deliveries, the network said. Israel is scheduled to receive a small shipment at the beginning of August and another, bigger delivery in October.
Last week, Israel began administering booster doses to those with weakened immune systems, including heart, liver and kidney transplant patients, despite the lack of approval from overseas regulatory agencies. But Health Ministry officials have indicated that third doses for the general population are not imminent, stressing that the vaccine remains largely effective.
However, a decision could be made on giving boosters to those over the age of 60 in Israel even before final approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, according to the TV report.
The report cited a recent study at Yale University that found there is a significant increase in immunity to COVID-19 following a third vaccine shot.
The number of Israelis with the coronavirus has surged over the past month as the ultra-contagious Delta variant takes hold in the country. Health Ministry morbidity figures published Monday evening showed there were 1,110 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed on that day by 10 p.m. compared to a daily caseload of just a few dozen a month ago.
As of Monday evening, there were 7,540 active coronavirus patients, a number that was around 200 a month ago. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 852,943 cases diagnosed in Israel and 6,450 people have died of COVID-19.
Israel’s current stockpile of Pfizer vaccines is slated to expire at the end of July, but Bennett announced earlier this month that he’d brokered a new deal with Pfizer to bring forward a projected delivery to August 1. That deal was intended to enable the continuation of a campaign aimed at vaccinating youths aged 12-15.
Israel is also slated to receive 700,000 doses from South Korea at some point after a swap deal for Israel’s expiring doses was agreed to earlier this month.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also directly negotiated with Bourla last year to secure quick delivery of vaccines for Israel’s national inoculation program.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus is believed to be more successful in bypassing the vaccines than previous strains of the virus. Health Ministry figures released in early July indicated that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is only 64 percent effective in preventing infection, but remains 93% effective in preventing hospitalization and serious symptoms.
Some health officials have cast doubt on these figures, noting that they were gathered only over a period of a month, and maintaining that the Pfizer vaccine is actually more effective against the Delta variant than claimed. Nevertheless, Pfizer cited data from Israel in seeking authorization from the US Federal Drug Administration for a third booster dose of its vaccine.