The US biotech company Moderna will deliver a first batch of coronavirus vaccines to Israel Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
He did not give a number, but reports have indicated between 100,000 and 150,000 doses will arrive in the first shipment, and that some 300,000 will have arrived by early next week.
Netanyahu said the vaccines will prioritize “people who cannot come to health maintenance organizations and to those quarantined at homes who cannot come to inoculation sites,” Netanyahu said, perhaps due to the fact that Moderna’s vaccine requires less rigorous cooling conditions than those of Pfizer, which have been serving Israel’s vaccination program so far.
While Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s requires storage at -20C and can survive in a regular refrigerator for up to 30 days.
The arrival of the vaccine from the US firm has been the subject of conflicting information in recent days. Last week, reports said Moderna would send one million vaccines to Israel in the coming week — which the Health Ministry refused to confirm.
Then on Monday, the company said it would start delivering doses this month, a claim then confirmed by the director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, Chezy Levy.
But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said later that the first batches wouldn’t arrive in Israel for another two months. He said Israel would “be happy” if Moderna began shipping vaccines to Israel sooner, but stressed that ministry officials had no indication that was the case. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
Moderna said Monday that Israel had ordered 6 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 3 million people. The Massachusetts-based firm was initially supposed to begin deliveries to Israel in March.
Israel’s vaccination campaign is in full swing, even as the country grapples with a surge in cases and is set to enter a more stringent lockdown on Thursday night.
Israel has been vaccinating some 150,000 people a day with Pfizer’s shot since its vaccination campaign began on December 20, with a focus on elderly people, at-risk groups and healthcare workers. The healthcare system is reportedly facing a shortage of doses that will force health providers to slow the pace of new inoculations, however.
Health officials have said the country will prioritize second doses in the coming weeks, and that there are enough vaccines to supply those doses to everyone who has received a first dose.
The latest news that Moderna vaccines were on their way to Israel came as the European Union’s medicines agency gave a green light to the shot Wednesday.
The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee — which must be rubberstamped by the EU’s executive commission — comes amid high rates of infections in many EU countries and strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people.
“This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency,” said Emer Cooke, executive director of EMA. “It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of all involved that we have this second positive vaccine recommendation just short of a year since the pandemic was declared by WHO.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the move and added in a tweet: “Now we are working at full speed to approve it & make it available in the EU.”
The EMA has already approved the coronavirus vaccine made by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Both that vaccine and Moderna’s require giving people two shots.
The EU has ordered 80 million doses of the Moderna vaccine with an option for a further 80 million. The bloc also has committed to buying 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Israel, the United States, and Canada have already approved use of the Moderna vaccine.
The US gave it the green light for emergency use in people over 18 years on December 18, followed by Canada five days later with an interim authorization also for people over 18. Israel authorized the vaccine on Monday.