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Israel, Brazil ink deal to establish joint team to research, produce vaccines

Brazilian delegation including foreign minister, president’s son meets Israeli officials in Jerusalem to discuss ‘the fight against coronavirus’

From right to left, a senior advisor to the Brazillian PM, Tzachi Braverman, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, during the meeting on March 9, 2021 (Jorge Novominsky/GPO)
From right to left, a senior advisor to the Brazillian PM, Tzachi Braverman, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, during the meeting on March 9, 2021 (Jorge Novominsky/GPO)

Israel and Brazil agreed to establish a joint team to research, develop and produce COVID-19 vaccines during a meeting between top officials in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

A delegation of Brazilian government officials headed by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo arrived in Israel Sunday for a series of meetings with Israeli officials about efforts to tackle the pandemic, including an Israeli-developed nasal spray for patients that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as a “miracle” treatment.

Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman, and economic adviser, Prof. Avi Simhon, met with Araújo Tuesday to ink the deal to establish a team of professionals to promote vaccine collaboration.

“We are happy to host you here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” Braverman said to Araújo. “Brazil and Israel have excellent relations, which are expressed in many collaborations, in various fields over the years.”

“I welcome further cooperation, also in the fight against coronavirus,” Braverman said.

The Brazilian delegation also included the chair of the Congress Foreign Affairs Committee Eduardo Bolsonaro — the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

The group was allowed into the country without having to quarantine, despite a general ban on foreign citizens entering Israel and the threat of a Brazilian COVID-19 variant that has alarmed health professionals in Israel and abroad. Brazil is battling of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The Foreign Ministry, confirming the meetings, said the visit would be taking place “according to Health Ministry guidelines.”

Netanyahu’s son, Yair, met with Eduardo Bolsonaro, and tweeted following the meeting that “it was great to meet again in Israel my good friend.”

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi pledged Israel would support Brazil in its fight against COVID-19 following a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart in Jerusalem.

Jair Bolsonaro said last month that his government would seek emergency use authorization for the Israeli-developed nasal spray.

“EXO-CD24 is a nasal spray developed by the Ichilov Medical Center in Israel, with nearly 100 percent effectiveness — 29 out of 30 — against COVID in serious cases,” Bolsonaro tweeted, two days after speaking on the phone with Netanyahu.

Ichilov Hospital announced in early February that one of its researchers had carried out Phase 1 testing — typically the first of three phases of clinical trials — on a nasal spray he developed against respiratory symptoms linked to COVID-19.

The researcher, Nadir Arber, reported that he had administered the spray to 30 patients with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, and that 29 of them had been released from the hospital in three to five days.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2019. (DEBBIE HILL/POOL/AFP)

But the hospital did not say whether a placebo had been given to a control group, and has yet to publish its findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In order to be accepted as effective by scientists, new treatments must generally undergo randomized, controlled, blind clinical trials that are then shared in a research publication.

However, that did not stop Netanyahu from hailing EXO-CD24 as a “miracle” drug.

A fierce critic of lockdown measures, Bolsonaro has instead fervently pushed the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to fight COVID-19.

Bolsonaro has sought to cultivate close ties with Netanyahu.

In one of his first moves after winning election in 2018, he vowed to follow the lead of his political role model, then US president Donald Trump, and move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The South American country opened a trade office in the Israeli capital in 2019, in a move hailed as a harbinger to opening an embassy in the city.

AFP contributed to this report.

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