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Ministry data shows slight increase in transmission rate

Ministers said asked to okay $2.1 billion for more vaccines, keep lid on matter

Health Ministry doesn’t provide explanation as to why millions more doses needed when majority of Israelis vaccinated, stockpile full; ministers asked not to comment publicly

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)

The Health Ministry is reportedly asking ministers to approve the transfer of seven billion shekels ($2.1 billion) to purchases millions of additional vaccine doses, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Thursday.

An urgent meeting on the matter was supposed to have taken place on Thursday but it was pushed until Monday as Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanded an explanation for the exorbitant sum being requested, given that a majority of Israelis are now fully vaccinated and the Health Ministry already has millions of doses in storage, the outlet said.

The ministry also plans to require ministers to sign off on a document agreeing not to speak publicly about the reasons for the vaccine budget, Kan said.

Cabinet members are slated to receive an outline explaining the request ahead of the meeting, but it has not yet been sent. Sources familiar with the matter told Kan that it was not clear whether ministers will ultimately approve the transfer.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry did not respond to a query requesting an explanation for the matter, saying that “due to confidentiality agreements and trade confidentiality, we cannot address this issue.”

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry revealed that 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.

That figure, which had not been publicized previously, was revealed after Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni asked the ministry to provide the numbers.

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.

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, but the revealed new sum appeared to indicate the cost has been much higher. The reason for the discrepancy wasn’t immediately clear.

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

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 Health Ministry said Friday morning that 5,213,638 people in Israel have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 4,690,678 of them receiving both shots.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a Leumit vaccination center in Tel Aviv, March 8, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The virus’s basic reproduction number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, was given as 0.56 — a slight increase for the first time in two weeks. Any figure under 1 means the outbreak is abating. The figure represents the situation as of 10 days ago due to the incubation period.

The data showed just 830 new cases diagnosed a day earlier and since the start of the pandemic 831,228 people in Israel have been confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Israel’s serious COVID-19 cases dropped to 470 people in serious condition, including 212 on ventilators.

Of the 65,406 virus tests conducted on Thursday, 1.3% returned positive, continuing the steep decline since January when the positive test rate reached over 10%.

The death toll stood at 6,164.

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