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Israel said close to deal for 18 million vaccine doses, bypassing cabinet vote

Initial agreement, held up by political infighting, would have seen purchase of double the number of shots; NIS 1.5 billion price tag to be paid from excess Finance Ministry funds

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of the DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines landing at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of the DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines landing at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL)

With an older deal held up by political infighting, Israel is reportedly closing in on a new agreement with Pfizer and Moderna to purchase some 18 million additional vaccine doses from them — half of the reported initially agreed amount.

According to the deal, Israel will immediately pay for 18 million shots from the two companies, Channel 12 reported Sunday, with an option for buying an additional 18 million doses after those have been used. The initial agreement would have seen Israel buy all 36 million in one batch — with the vast majority coming from Pfizer (as is the case with the new deal) — a move reportedly opposed by the coalition’s Blue and White party.

The network said that the deal, which will cost NIS 1.5 billion (around $460 million), would 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 was happy with the deal, which could be agreed upon as early as Monday, and would not seek to block its implementation.

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

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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

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.

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 a 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 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.

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