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18 million vaccines reported in initial phase

Israel closes long-term COVID-19 vaccine deals with Pfizer and Moderna

Netanyahu says agreements, signed despite ‘political difficulties,’ will ensure ‘no more lockdowns’; bill set to be paid from excess Finance Ministry funds

Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines arrive at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines arrive at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Israel closed agreements with Pfizer and Moderna on Monday to purchase millions of additional vaccine doses in 2022.

While the exact number of doses from each company remains secret, Hebrew media reports said Israel agreed to pay for a total 18 million shots from the two companies, with the option to purchase millions more after those have been used.

An earlier version of the agreement would have seen Israel buy 36 million shots in one batch — with the vast majority coming from Pfizer — a move reportedly nixed by the coalition’s Blue and White party.

“There were some obstacles in Israel that we had to overcome, and we found a way to overcome them,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said Monday, referring to the original deal that was held up by political infighting.

“Israel will once again lead the world in the fight against the coronavirus. There will be no more lockdowns — we got out of it,” Netanyahu said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks at a Pfizer manufacturing site, February 19, 2021, in Portage, Michigan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla also announced the deal, saying that “governments around the world are working on longer-term pandemic preparedness,” with Israel being the first.

According to the deal, the doses to be supplied will be adapted to the different variants of the virus, if needed.

Channel 12 reported Sunday that the purchases would cost NIS 1.5 billion (around $460 million), to be paid for out of excess funds from the Finance Ministry, thus forgoing the need for a cabinet or Knesset vote.

According to the report, Blue and White is happy with the deal, and will not seek to block its implementation.

The government was set to approve the initial deal during a cabinet meeting last month, but Defense Minister Benny Gantz of Blue and White canceled the meeting over Netanyahu’s refusal to hold a vote on a permanent justice minister. Israel is currently without a justice minister, after Gantz’s interim appointment ended at the start of the month.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)

“I am glad that, despite the unnecessary political difficulties, we have reached an agreement with Pfizer,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Monday.

Earlier this month, Israeli television reported that Pfizer was threatening to hold up further vaccine shipments over the delay in payments, warning that the Jewish state could be sent to the back of the line if it does not pay up. Army Radio reported Tuesday that Pfizer has made clear this is not the case.

FILE: Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, December 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel and Pfizer agreed to their first vaccine deal in November. The drug company, together with its partner BioNTech, supplied Israel with an unspecified number of doses, and the Finance Ministry said it paid NIS 2.6 billion ($785 million).

Israel still has enough vaccines to fully inoculate the remaining unvaccinated population, while giving a single shot to recovered COVID-19 patients, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy has said. However, he stressed that Israel needed a continuing supply of shots and wanted to “get ahead of the rest of the world.”

The additional shots will be for children, once they are deemed eligible, and to use as booster shots. Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said last week that he believes Israel will start vaccinating children in the next few weeks. Pfizer applied earlier this month for US authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds.

Almost 5 million Israelis have received both Pfizer shots; some 900,000 eligible Israelis have yet to be vaccinated.

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