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Israel said pressing vaccine firms to speed up delivery in bid to avert shortage

Report says while pharma professionals back prioritizing nation to use it as a proving ground, board members fear anger in other markets will eventually hurt sales

File: A plane of the international courier company DHL, carrying over 100,000 doses of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines, lands at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
File: A plane of the international courier company DHL, carrying over 100,000 doses of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines, lands at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel is holding ongoing talks with vaccine-making pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna to speed up the arrival of shipments to Israel, in an attempt to head off an expected shortage that will cause it to slow down its vaccination operations, TV networks reported Friday.

Channel 12 News cited a senior official in contact with medical firms as saying a deal had not yet been reached to get new doses to Israel early.

The report said a battle is being waged within pharma companies between professionals and board members: While scientists want to speed up deliveries to Israel, hoping to use its advanced and efficient healthcare system as a proving ground for the vaccines, management is concerned about complaints from other countries that the Jewish state is getting unfair preferential treatment. They reportedly fear this will hurt them later down the road in larger, more lucrative markets.

Related: Small wonder: How Israel rolled up its sleeves and became vaccination nation

Channel 12 and Channel 13 both said Israeli officials were engaged in a pressure campaign to convince the companies to prioritize Israel.

Unless there is a breakthrough, the country is expected to hold back on administering further first doses for several days, while focusing on providing second doses to those who’ve already received their first shot.

The network said Health Ministry officials believe the delay will at any rate be short, and that by the end of the month at-risk populations will be taken care of and the entire public will be able to begin vaccinating.

On Thursday Channel 12 reported that one million vaccines from Moderna will arrive in Israel next week, rather than in March as had previously been agreed, boosting dwindling supplies.

A health worker prepare a vaccination against COVID-19 at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on December 31, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said it could not confirm the report. “We would like to clarify that as of now, we don’t have information about Moderna’s intention to move up the delivery of millions of vaccines to Israel,” the ministry said in a statement.

Later, the network cited sources in Moderna as insisting the shipment was ready and that its departure was only a matter of final approval. The report said Moderna officials were “surprised” at the ministry’s apparent denial.

The Moderna vaccine has not yet been used in Israel as part of its immunization program. The Health Ministry has not officially announced its approval for use in the country, but is expected to do so after the FDA okayed it for emergency use in the US.

Israel has reached a pace of 150,000 vaccine injections every day for the past several days, and on Friday officially passed one million vaccinations or some 11 percent of its population — far and away the world leader in vaccinations per capita.

The mass vaccination drive started at the beginning of last week and has so far focused mainly on healthcare workers, those aged over 60, and at-risk groups.

An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Ya’akov, on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

Its globe-leading vaccination drive has been attributed to various factors, including its relatively small but densely packed population and highly professional, community-integrated health services.

Israel is also currently in its third nationwide lockdown to contain the outbreak. It has reported more than 428,000 cases and 3,356 deaths since the pandemic began.

The drive currently uses the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination, which requires two shots, spread three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine is also a two-shot inoculation.

Though not yet available to the general public, some vaccination centers have been opening their doors to anyone who comes at the end of each day in an effort to make sure vaccine units available for immediate use do not go to waste. So far some 41% of over 60-year-olds have had their first shot, according to Health Ministry figures released Friday.

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