A visit by the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer next week was postponed due to the fact that Albert Bourla and his delegation are not yet fully immunized against COVID-19, an Israeli television report said Thursday.
Bourla and some of his team members have had their first shot but have not yet been given the second dose of the company’s vaccine, while others have gotten both doses but have not completed the minimum seven-day wait afterward to ensure higher protection from the virus, Channel 12 News reported.
The 59-year-old Bourla had previously said he would not cut in line to get the vaccine, despite being head of the company making the drug.
Pfizer confirmed Thursday that the planned visit had been postponed, but when pressed to confirm the reason for the cancellation, it declined to comment.
“We continue to be interested in visiting Israel and meeting with decision-makers, health officials and professionals that are taking part in the successful vaccine drive in Israel,” a spokesperson for Pfizer told Channel 12.
Bourla was set to arrive in Israel on March 8, just 15 days before the March 23 election. There had been earlier speculation that the trip had been postponed to avoid appearing to influence the national vote. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly touted his personal rapport with Bourla as a major reason Israel was able to secure large quantities of coronavirus vaccines so quickly.
Bourla’s trip is now expected to be delayed to late spring “when coronavirus restrictions are lifted or improve, and allow better visiting conditions,” Pfizer said.
The trip was set to coincide with the completion of the delivery of 10 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses to Israel and would have reportedly included discussions on the possibility of Pfizer building a vaccine production facility in Israel.
Netanyahu has made Israel’s vaccination success the centerpiece of his campaign for the upcoming election.
Charging that the visit would be used by the prime minister for his own benefit in the election, the Achrayut Leumit watchdog group had urged Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit earlier this week to prevent it from taking place.
The group said that the visit could be considered “prohibited election propaganda” due to its use of Health Ministry resources.
On Thursday, Netanyahu hosted both Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as the countries announced an alliance for joint research and development of pandemic-beating drugs, as well as joint investment on coronavirus vaccine production.
The three countries will launch “a research and development fund” and begin “joint efforts for common production of future vaccines,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference.
The Health Ministry said Thursday night that 4,896,113 Israelis had received a first vaccine dose, of whom 3,642,338 have also received a second.
The election — the fourth in two years — was called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.