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Israel media review

Moderna love: What the press is saying on November 17

Israel gets hyped up by the news that a company it actually already has a deal with appears to have a solid vaccine candidate, but others urge caution and yet others go shopping

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. The vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc., generated antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19 in a study volunteers who were given either a low or medium dose. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. The vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc., generated antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19 in a study volunteers who were given either a low or medium dose. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

1. Needle in a haystack: Pharma giant Moderna’s announcement Monday that its vaccine is 94.5% effective according to preliminary results is greeted with much excitement in the Israeli press.

  • Thanks to the fact that Israel had already forged a deal with Moderna, coverage is markedly different (yet still slightly more subdued) than the recent announcement from Pfizer, shifting from “Yay, how can we get our hands on it?” to “Yay, when can we get our hands on it?”
  • “A shot of hope,” cries the front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • It doesn’t hurt that the company’s chief scientist happens to be Tal Zaks, a local boy done good, who makes the Hebrew-language media rounds. Zaks tells Yedioth that Moderna plans on having between 500 million and a billion doses produced by the end of 2021. And even better, some in Israel won’t have to wait that long.
  • “Israel was one of the first countries to hook up with us, and will be among the first to get the vaccine,” he tells the paper.
  • Zaks tells Channel 12 news that “the supply to Israel is expected to come out of the first shipments from the European production line set up in Switzerland. I hope this happens at the beginning of 2021.”
  • In Haaretz, reporter Ronni Linder dives into how Israel ended up making a deal with Moderna, calling it a “gamble that paid off,” and indicates it’s no coincidence that Zaks is Israeli, as a team appointed to lead the search tried to figure out which companies would talk to it and which it could invest in.
  • “The team tried to contact dozens of companies to piece together information about their work. Moderna was one of the more accessible companies among those that seemed to have a chance of producing a vaccine. This was partly due to the fact that the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, is Israeli,” she reports.
  • “We held some in-depth talks, and utilized links to Jewish people and Israelis who are connected to the company,” an unnamed source linked to the team tells the paper.
  • According to the paper, Israel can only buy 2 million doses, to vaccinate 1 million people.
  • Nonetheless, a Health Ministry official tells Israel Hayom that “I can’t say that by Passover we’ll all be vaccinated, but I’m optimistic that within a year this will be behind us.”

2. I never promised you a dose garden: Channel 13 quotes Israeli officials expressing regret that Israel hadn’t purchased more doses from Moderna. However, it says Israel is in talks with AstraZeneca, expected to be the next major pharma firm to publish its preliminary results.

  • The channel reports, without a source, that medical teams, high-risk groups and pregnant women will be among the first to be vaccinated. That may just be another case of the channel reporting its own speculation as fact.
  • Haaretz notes that no actual decision has been made yet, in fact: “Generally, people in high-risk groups and medical personnel are inoculated first, but the considerations are more complicated. Beyond determining who receives the first 4.3 million doses (out of more than nine million Israelis), Israel must also determine the order of vaccination within these groups: Who gets the vaccine immediately and who must wait several weeks or months?
  • The paper also notes a number of other unknowns: “There are also questions regarding the safety of the vaccine for certain population groups. Is the vaccine safe and effective for people with underlying medical issues? And if so, for how long? It must be noted that these vaccines were developed with unprecedented speed, compressing clinical trials that usually take years into only a few months.”
  • Others also caution against getting too worked up over the Moderna announcement. Prof. Hagai Levine, the media’s go to nabob of negativity on public health matters, tells Army Radio: “We don’t know if the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer prevent transmission, just sickness. We’ll need a large number of vaccines to get over the pandemic.”
  • “Despite the promises it’s hard to see Israel being first in the global line for in-demand vaccines,” writes Yedioth columnist Sarit Rosenblum, “and it’s hard to predict unplanned events of various types that can affect the global vaccination effort against the coronavirus, from problems that may be discovered after its use to changes in the virus that can negatively affect its effectiveness.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Ran Reznick expresses fears that “the happy announcements of the pharma firms will put the nation into a state of euphoria or complacency, as if we can already take off our masks, go back to normal and count down the days until the vaccines come and heal us.”

3. A clinic on buying drugs: Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski lauds the government for getting on the Moderna train, and uses it as a counterpoint to the way the government dealt with Pfizer and as a management lesson for the government, or a child.

  • “No middle of the night talks between the the CEO and the prime minister just to discover that his dad has Jewish heritage,” he says. “Already at the start of the pandemic, some six months ago, the government closed a deal with Moderna. Just good government work. That’s how it works. And when it works we celebrate you. Want us to celebrate you more? Just do your work as it should be done. That’s it.”
  • Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord also lauds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers for steering the COVID ship correctly, despite the dastardly designs of uppity leftist bureaucrats like the attorney general and others whom he somehow shoehorns into his column as the villains (really).
  • “It’s hard to see anyone in the peanut gallery of experts and politicians trying to hitch a ride on the health crisis who would react like Netanyahu did. The atmosphere around him is one of ridiculous revenge and is detached from reality. Naftali Bennett, Dina Zilber, [Avichai] Mandelblit and the black shirt people are all in the same camp: Either they are detached from the main goal of Israeli society, or they are intentionally working to sabotage a leadership that needs to lead the fight against the virus.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur goes through all the ways the government is actually falling down on the job, with no budget, an emptying Health Ministry and gridlock thanks to an endless power struggle at the top.
  • “A strong professional bureaucracy and a fundamentally healthy economy – an economy strengthened by the efforts and policies of Netanyahu himself over many years – have tempered the pain from the pandemic and would, in other times, surely see Israel through to a robust recovery,” he writes. “But Israel’s never-ending political crisis now threatens to gut that very bureaucracy and wreak populist havoc with that economy. By the time that becomes clear to overseas analysts, it may be too late for Israelis. The damage will have been done.”

4. Notorious BIG: Meanwhile, Israelis are showing how responsible and patient they can be by rushing to shops given the okay to open Tuesday, or opening up themselves against regulations to protest the fact that they have been asked to stay closed as part of a rapidly dissipating national lockdown.

  • Several news outlets publish pictures and video from a BIG strip mall near Haifa, with what look to be dozens of people crammed together trying to get into a store.
  • Kan reports that the crowd of some 150 people, some of whom had been waiting since the early hours of the morning, was surrounding a sports store in the shopping center clamoring to get in.
  • Channel 12 publishes pictures of a BIG shopping center in Tiberias where the parking lot looks like it is Black Friday (which is now a thing here), and video from a BIG in Ashdod where there appears to be less chaos, but just as long lines.
  • “It’s crowded,” one almost-shopper tells the station: “I came to buy clothes for my grandkids, but I probably won’t wait in line. It’s scarier standing outside than inside the store. I don’t understand how with dozens of meters, just four people are allowed in at a time, and in a much smaller homegoods store, dozens go in at a time.”
  • “Storming the stores,” reads a headline on Channel 13’s news website. The channel reports that the Fox chain’s response to the crowding isn’t to shut down and send everyone home for their own safety, but rather to extend hours until midnight. Mo’ problems, mo’ money.
  • Meanwhile, the complaints of store owners left behind in the outdoor markets, or shuks, popular in some cities that are still not allowed to open grow even louder, especially thanks to the convenient news event of a protest at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, where some open anyway.
  • One merchant tells Haaretz that she had no choice but to risk it and reopen: “I am living on pennies anyway. They have shut down our lives.”
  • The owner of a restaurant in the market tells Kan the whole thing is farkakteh, forcing residents of nearby working class neighborhoods to make their way to bigger and more crowded chain stores. “It can’t be that Rami Levy will be open, and Shufersal and BIG, and residents of the Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood will need to ride on a crowded bus to get to a supermarket with another 120 people. Enough already,” she says.
  • Enjoy it while it lasts. Army Radio reports that the National Security Council is already drawing up plans for shutting things back down as infections go up.

5. Up, up and away: There’s one place that’s still free of COVID-19: Space. And that’s where the second Israeli astronaut ever is headed, hoping to be the first to also return, nearly 20 years after the tragic deaths of Ilan Ramon and the other crewmembers of the Shuttle Columbia.

  • “The upcoming launch will put Eytan Stibbe on the International Space Station for 200 hours, which he will use to conduct a series of unprecedented experiments that are intended to advance Israeli technologies and scientific developments by researchers and startups,” ToI reports, adding that Ramon was Stibbe’s commander in the air force.
  • Ron Livne, the head of an Israeli center named for Ramon and largely administered by his widow Rona, who died recently after years of promoting her husband’s memory, says that sending a second astronaut was her dream.
  • “She would also say ‘I wish, what a dream. This is a chance for Israel to celebrate science, technology and education and one chapter of the story is missing.’ Rona would always be opening new chapters of the story of Ramon, another educational program, another school, another experiment in space, and she very much yearned for this moment. It would come up with every incoming science minister, and the whole space agency.”
  • Unlike Ramon, Stibbe, who is a millionaire, will be funding the trip himself, and a number of outlets note that he may be on a flight with Tom Cruise, who is scheduled to blast off next year for a new movie role being made with NASA and SpaceX.
  • Calcalist reports that the Science Ministry is attempting to piggyback on Stibbe’s trip and is trying to raise “tens of millions of shekels to fund the development, construction and launch of Israeli experiments with Stibbe, and educational activities which will accompany his stay in space.”
  • According to the report, the ministry is attempting to get permission to expand the amount of cargo Stibbe is allowed to bring up to fit all the goodies in.
  • While several news sites laud Stibbe as “plane-downing champ” for his exploits against enemy aircraft, Haaretz notes that he also has a reputation for selling arms to war-torn Angola.
  • According to a 2019 report by the paper, Stibbe’s firm LR, founded with two other fighter pilots, “got involved in defense exports in Angola in the mid-80s and spent years massively arming the government there and training its troops. According to a variety of reports, the company sold Sukhoi 27 combat planes, artillery shells, and light weapons to the government. At the same time, the three founders also built airports and security systems and were involved in purchasing a plane for Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the president who ruled in Angola for 38 years through 2017. Some attribute his victory in the war to the country’s aerial armament, which LR greatly contributed to.”
  • Channel 12’s Uri Isaac writes that Stibbe’s involvement in Angola should take him out of the running to be an Israeli astronaut, throwing his own words back at him about the importance of people in important positions having clean hands and strong ethics.
  • “We wouldn’t think to promote a person like this to be an IDF officer, or an astronaut with the Israeli flag on his shoulder. Our representatives of earth, in the land of politics or space above, need to be, by his telling, spotless — practice what you preach. In this test, it seems Stibbe has already failed.”
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