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Netanyahu hails Pfizer breakthrough, says in talks to bring vaccine to Israel

Health Ministry chief confirms negotiations with US company to procure coronavirus shot, which preliminary data has indicated is over 90% effective

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the inauguration of a COVID-19 rapid testing center at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod on November 9, 2020. (Atef Safadi/ Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the inauguration of a COVID-19 rapid testing center at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod on November 9, 2020. (Atef Safadi/ Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed the promising results of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine trial, and vowed to bring the shot to Israel.

Pfizer said Monday that an early peek at the data on its coronavirus vaccine suggests the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

“An important development! I am enthusiastically working with world leaders to bring the vaccine [to Israel],” wrote Netanyahu on Facebook, apparently referring to the Pfizer version. “I see the light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t happen in years, but rather in a few months.”

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, later confirmed that Israel is in talks to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“We’re in talks toward signing with Pfizer,” Levy told Army Radio, after Hebrew-language media reported on the negotiations and described the talks as “advanced.”

The Jewish state has previously clinched deals with US biotech firm Moderna to supply a vaccine if and when developed, as well as with Italian biotech firm ReiThera. Israel has also reportedly been in contact with Russia and China to possibly use their vaccines if they prove effective, with a Jerusalem hospital ordering 1.5 million doses of the Russian shot in case trials eventually show it to be safe.

Israel is also developing its own vaccine, albeit at a slower pace, with human trials beginning last week.

A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

The coronavirus shots, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, are among 10 possible vaccine candidates in late-stage testing around the world — four of them so far in huge studies in the US. Moderna also has said it hopes to be able to file an application with the FDA later this month.

Anthony Fauci, the United States government’s top-infectious disease expert, said the Pfizer results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

“It’s going to have a major impact on everything we do with respect to COVID,” Fauci said.

Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective. Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot may be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective and require yearly shots.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago – Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean for certain that a vaccine is imminent: The interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the US and five other countries. Some participants got the vaccine, while others got dummy shots.

Pfizer Inc. did not provide any more details about those infections and cautioned that the initial protection rate might change by the time the study ends. Even revealing such early data is highly unusual.

Whenever any vaccine arrives, initial supplies will be scarce and rationed, with priority likely to be given to health care workers and others on the front lines. Pfizer has estimated that 50 million doses of its vaccine could be available globally by the end of the year, which could cover 25 million people, since it is given in two doses.

“We need to see the data, but this is extremely promising,” said Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, former chief of the FDA’s vaccine division. He ticked off many questions still to be answered, including how long the vaccine’s effects last and whether it protects older people as well as younger ones.

Marylyn Addo, head of the tropical medicine unit at UKE hospital in Hamburg, Germany, said the interim results were “an interesting first signal,” but questions remain.

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