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Israel has spent $788m on vaccines, could double sum — Health Ministry

Knesset Finance Committee hears previously undisclosed sum, also approves $598 million for other aspects of COVID-19 response

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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

Israel has spent NIS 2.6 billion ($788 million) so far on coronavirus vaccines and expects to pay a similar amount for more doses in the future, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.

The information, which has not been publicized previously, was revealed after Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni asked the ministry to provide the figures.

A Health Ministry representative told the panel that the country has paid NIS 2.6 billion to various vaccine manufacturers and that another NIS 2.5 billion has been allocated to pay for more units in the future.

Gafni, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, praised the ongoing vaccine campaign, saying Israel “is ahead of all the countries in the world, thank goodness. We are glad that the vaccines work and that it is possible to begin a return to normal.”

Israel has bought some 15 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, and the committee heard that some will not be used. Last month, Israel suspended shipments of surplus coronavirus vaccines to a group of friendly nations as authorities examine whether it was within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s authority to order the move.

Previous reports have indicated Israel has paid $23.5 per Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose, while the new sum appeared to indicate the cost has been much higher. The reason for the discrepancy wasn’t immediately clear.

The Knesset Finance Committee also approved the transfer of NIS 1.973 billion ($598 million) to the Health Ministry to fund other aspects of the pandemic response.

The lion’s share of NIS 1.349 billion is to fund the continuation of virus tests, epidemiological investigations and quarantines, some of which are at state-operated facilities.

A further NIS 264 million is for the country’s health maintenance organizations, which are bearing the brunt of handling the virus response, the committee said in a statement. It is intended to pay for patients’ medical treatment, the operation of call centers, testing, psychological support, and the provision of at-home services to the elderly and other populations.

Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Vaccine prices reported by the Washington Post and the BBC in December indicate Israel paid significantly more for the Pfizer vaccine than either the US or the European Union.

In January, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Israel was paying the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna pharmaceutical companies $47 per person for each two-dose vaccine.

Since then Israel has ordered millions more vaccine doses, primarily from Pfizer, which produces the two-dose inoculation the country is using for its national immunization drive.

The sum meant the average price for each dose of vaccine from both companies is about $23.50, higher than the amount that Pfizer had initially said the shots would cost, according to the report. The higher price is because Israel has pushed to buy large numbers of the vaccines and to have them delivered quickly to keep the vaccination drive in high gear.

The Washington Post reported at the time that the US was paying Pfizer-BioNTech $19.50 per dose while the 27-country EU bloc was paying $14.76. It cited Moderna vaccine prices as $15 per dose for the US and $18 per dose for the EU.

The figures were based on EU prices that were tweeted — and then deleted — by a Belgian government official as well as calculations from Bernstein Research, an analysis and investment firm.

The BBC reported a day earlier that Pfizer was marketing its vaccines to countries at a price range of $10.65 to $21 per dose, while Moderna’s range was $25 to $37 per dose.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the arrival of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel was late joining the line for the Pfizer vaccine behind the US, Canada and Japan. Netanyahu has repeatedly touted his personal efforts as a major reason Israel was able to secure large quantities of coronavirus vaccines so quickly.

Kan reported that the total cost to the economy for every two days of a total national lockdown was about NIS 1 billion. Israel has in the past few weeks rolled back most of the restrictions applied during its third national lockdown since the pandemic began.

The government has set a goal to vaccinate the entire population aged 16 and up by the end of April.

So far, Israel has given at least the first vaccine shot to 5,200,395 people, of whom 4,291,116 have also had the second, according to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday.

Aside from what it has spent on vaccines and the pandemic response, Israel has also allocated NIS 100 billion ($30 billion) for an economic rescue package to deal with the financial crisis caused by the virus outbreak.

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