Israeli officials said to regret not ordering more doses

Moderna’s top medical officer says Israel will be among first to get vaccine

It’s ‘around the corner,’ says Tal Zaks, who is Israeli, estimating that shots will reach Jewish state early next year

Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tal Zaks. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tal Zaks. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Moderna’s Israeli chief medical officer said Monday that Israel would be among the first countries in line to receive its coronavirus vaccine, hours after the US company announced initial results showing the vaccine is 94.5 percent effective.

Speaking with both of Israel’s main commercial TV networks, Channels 12 and 13, Dr. Tal Zaks predicted that the first doses would reach the Jewish state early next year. “It’s around the corner,” he said.

Zaks said final results would be available within several weeks.

“The supply to Israel is expected to come out of the first shipments from the European production line set up in Switzerland,” he told Channel 12. “I hope this happens at the beginning of 2021.

“I cannot give an exact number but I can guarantee that we are making every effort to supply the vaccines to Israel, as we promised,” Zaks added. “Israel is among the first group of countries that signed with us. We will fulfill our side of the agreement.”

The TV reports said Israel had purchased 1-2 million doses from Moderna. Zaks — whose mother lives in Ra’anana, and who said he hoped to be able to fly to visit her soon — said it would be enough for “a significant proportion” of the population.

Channel 13 quoted Israeli officials expressing regret that Israel hadn’t purchased more doses from Moderna. It said that medical teams, high-risk groups and pregnant women would be among the first to be vaccinated.

Moderna said earlier Monday that its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s still ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the US.

A nurse gives a volunteer an injection, as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the US National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway on July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, NY. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in June that Israel had signed a deal with Moderna for a future coronavirus vaccine, without specifying the number of doses that would be supplied. Israel has paid a total of NIS 405 million ($120 million) to the US-based biotech firm, according to the Haaretz daily.

Last week, Israel also signed a deal with Pfizer for its vaccine.

Netanyahu said Moderna’s announcement is “excellent news for the State of Israel,” adding that his government’s goal was “to quickly bring as many vaccines from as many sources to as many citizens as possible.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein welcomed the news in a statement.

“Moderna was the first vaccine company that the Health Ministry signed a deal with, months ago,” he said. “The announcement by the company is excellent news for the Israeli people. The activities of the Health Ministry in recent months prove its effectiveness and success in locating, contracting and purchasing the leading vaccines on the market.

“At the same time, there is still a long way to go and we must not be complacent,” Edelstein warned.

An entrance to a Moderna, Inc., building, May 18, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Moderna’s vaccine, created with the National Institutes of Health, is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real vaccination or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board broke the code to examine 95 infections that were recorded starting two weeks after volunteers’ second dose — and discovered all but five illnesses occurred in participants who got the placebo.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected and added to the calculations. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.

But Moderna’s independent monitors reported some additional, promising tidbits: All 11 severe COVID-19 cases were among placebo recipients, and there were no significant safety concerns.

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