Health minister: Israel to sign deal Friday to buy Pfizer coronavirus vaccine

Edelstein says enough doses will be bought to immunize 4 million people; delivery to begin in January and continue throughout 2021

This May 4, 2020, photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)
This May 4, 2020, photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday evening that his ministry was poised Friday to sign a deal with Pfizer for the purchase of millions of doses of its coronavirus vaccine, amid indications they could arrive by the first quarter of 2021.

The deal will include the purchase of 8 million doses, which will be sufficient to vaccinate 4 million people out of Israel’s population of 9 million, Edelstein’s office said. Two doses are needed to immunize each person. Delivery of the vaccine will begin in January 2021 and continue throughout the year, it said.

“The purchase of the vaccine is great news for Israeli citizens,” Edelstein said in a statement. “The Health Ministry is making every effort to buy different vaccines, so that every citizen can get vaccinated. But until that happens we must obey the instructions. We mustn’t become complacent.”

He added that the vaccine will only be administered if it is approved by both the FDA in the United States and the Israeli Health Ministry

“We are very proud to work with the Israeli government and supply it with our scientific resources and means of production,” said Dr. Miron Livneh, manager of Pfizer in Israel. “Our common goal is to bring a potential COVID-19 vaccine to the Israeli people as soon as possible.”

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech confirmed the deal in a joint statement late Thursday. The financial details have not been disclosed.

“Our goal remains to create a global supply of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for many people around the world, as quickly as we can,” said Sean Marett, chief business and chief commercial officer at BioNTech.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The dramatic development came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the government and the pharmaceutical giant had reached an agreement to remove all remaining impediments to signing a deal.

“Together with the legal advisers on both sides, we have removed the last obstacle before signing a contract with Pfizer for the supply of vaccines to Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement broadcast live following a meeting of the co-called coronavirus cabinet.

“We will get these vaccines like the leading countries in the world. It will start in January, it will grow from month to month. And we are working, and I am working, to bring vaccines from other sources as well. The more, the better,” he added.

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said he had spoken with Pfizer chief Albert Bourla overnight and that Israel was set to sign an agreement with the pharmaceutical giant within days. The call followed a conversation on Wednesday evening between the prime minister and Bourla that Netanyahu described as “very substantive and very practical.”

Israel’s Channel 12 said in an unsourced report that in the initial call, Netanyahu secured a verbal commitment from Bourla to supply Israel with three million vaccinations (six million shots) at an initial investment of NIS 100 million ($29.6 million).

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 26, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

However, a Pfizer spokesman denied at the time that any agreement with Israel had been reached.

“We’re not in a position to discuss details of private discussions. There is no agreement between Pfizer and Israel at this time. Should this change we will endeavor to advise,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement to The Times of Israel, delivered before Netanyahu’s second call with Bourla.

Pfizer announced Monday that initial data indicated the vaccine it is developing with BioNTech is 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, sparking optimism inoculations against the novel coronavirus could soon be available.

Pfizer’s announcement about the vaccine trial results, which put the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, was hailed at the time by Netanyahu, who vowed to bring the shot to Israel.

Israel has deals with two other pharmaceutical firms for vaccines, and is developing its own version as well, but had reportedly not been intensively engaged in talks with Pfizer before Monday’s announcement, putting it at a disadvantage.

One of those two firms, Moderna, said Wednesday that it would likely announce its own preliminary results later this month.

A vial of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

Israel has already paid a total of NIS 405 million ($120 million) to Moderna, which is in phase 3 of vaccine development, and Arcturus, which is at an early stage in testing, out of about NIS 1 billion ($295 million) set aside for purchasing vaccines, according to the Haaretz daily.

Besides the agreements with Moderna and Arcturus, Israel has also inked a deal with Italian biotech firm ReiThera to supply a vaccine if and when developed and is in talks with Russia to purchase a vaccine it is developing.

Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center last week said it had preordered 1.5 million units of the Russian vaccine, which is also in Phase 3 testing and which Moscow asserted this week has so far shown to be 92% effective.

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

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