Israel is seeking to back out of a deal to purchase ten million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine units amid concerns over a possible link to rare blood clots in adults, the country’s coronavirus czar confirmed Wednesday.
AstraZeneca has been embroiled in controversy over its failure to deliver promised doses to the European Union, and over the shot’s efficacy and safety profile.
According to an Army Radio report, Israeli officials have been in contact with the UK-headquartered pharmaceutical company about canceling the contract, but AstraZeneca is reluctant to comply, fearing the bad publicity that would ensue.
As an alternative, officials are looking at selling the vaccines to other countries, a move that is less likely to impact AstraZeneca’s image and will also help recoup the money spent on the vaccines.
However, there are legal complications, among them who would be held responsible if there are any damaging side effects from the vaccines sold to another country, and legal officials are examining the matter, the report said.
One way or another, there is no intention to make use of the AstraZeneca vaccines in Israel, the report added.
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash later confirmed to the station that Israel is trying to abort its AstraZeneca order, saying the vaccines “aren’t needed.”
“From our point of view it would be better if they don’t arrive in the country,” he said in an interview, adding that the aim is to prevent the vaccines from being delivered and then just thrown away. He confirmed there were talks aimed at diverting the vaccines to other countries.
Israel has purchased tens of millions of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to use in its national vaccination program. AstraZeneca vaccines have not been in use.
Some European countries have recently paused using AstraZeneca due to concerns about its safety but resumed giving the shots in March.
On Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was readying for another coronavirus vaccination campaign in six months that will include children.
The premier’s announcement came a day after Israel closed new supply deals with Pfizer and Moderna. The exact number of doses from each company remains secret, but Hebrew media reports said Israel agreed to pay for a total of 18 million shots from the two American companies, with the option to purchase millions more after those have been used.
Nearly 5 million Israelis, over half the total population, have already received both doses for inoculation against COVID-19.
Israel has in the past given surplus vaccines to friendly countries for diplomatic gains but the process was halted in February as legal officials examined whether it was in Netanyahu’s authority to order the transfers. Some doses had already been delivered to other countries.