90% of current infections in Israel are of Delta variant

Pfizer said to rule against extending expiry date for unused Israeli vaccines

Biotech firm reportedly says it doesn’t have enough information to ensure doses would still be safe; surplus Moderna shots being considered as stopgap

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the arrival of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, at Ben Gurion Airport, on December 9, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the arrival of over 100,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, at Ben Gurion Airport, on December 9, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Pfizer has reportedly rejected an Israeli request to extend the expiration date on over a million of its vaccines that are due to expire on July 30.

The biotech company told Israel that it does not currently have enough information to ensure that the doses would still be safe beyond their current expiration dates, Channel 12 reported Thursday night.

Israel is said to have around 1.4 million doses set to expire at the end of the month.

Without the go-ahead from Pfizer, Israel may be unable to offer the first COVID shot to Israelis after July 9, since there will not be unexpired vaccines for their second dose three weeks later.

Government officials have already been encouraging Israelis — adolescents in particular — to get a first shot before the July 9 deadline so they can get their second dose before the expiration date.

Channel 13 reported Thursday, however, that Israel has a stockpile of unused Moderna vaccines that it will use as a stop-gap for the general public.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, Belgium, on April 23, 2021. (John Thys / Pool / AFP)

On Wednesday, it was reported that Israel was holding negotiations with the United Kingdom to broker a COVID-19 vaccine swap deal.

Under the exchange, Israel would ship around 1 million of its Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that are due to expire on July 30 to the UK, Channel 12 reported. In exchange, the Health Ministry would receive an equivalent number of vaccines that the UK is slated to receive from Pfizer in September.

The network described the talks on the proposed deal as “advanced” and said the shipments could begin as soon as next week.

Earlier this month, Israel attempted a similar vaccine deal with the Palestinian Authority, but it fell through after the PA backtracked from receiving soon-to-be-expired doses, claiming they were not up to snuff. The PA later said it would seek to renegotiate the deal.

Israel said the vaccines were fine and that it was using them itself as part of its drive to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15.

On Monday, Kan news reported that the Health Ministry would destroy at least 800,000 of the expiring coronavirus vaccine doses, if no buyers are found for them in the next two weeks. The vaccine doses are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the broadcaster.

A bottle of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses, which expires June 2021, seen after shots from the bottle were administered to Israeli teens, on June 21, 2021. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The push to get young Israelis vaccinated comes as Israel deals with a renewed rise in coronavirus cases, with much of the spike linked to schools and the spread of the more contagious Delta variant from abroad.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is more contagious than other variants and may be more able to bypass vaccines, but is believed to not cause serious infection among the vaccinated. The variant is believed to be around 40% more contagious than the original strain, according to the United Kingdom’s public health agency. The effectiveness of two vaccine doses for protection from hospitalization is at 96%, according to the agency.

As of Thursday evening, Health Ministry figures showed that 5,610,964 people, out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, have gotten their first vaccine shot. Of those, 5,171,788 have received their second dose.

The ministry reported 199 new cases since midnight, bringing the number of active infections to 1,054. The positivity rate on the 45,145 tests performed Thursday was 0.5 percent, similar to the past few days.

The number of serious cases, which have remained stable since daily cases began increasing again, ticked up slightly to 27.

The death toll remained at 6,429, with only one fatality in over two weeks, indicating the success of Israel’s mass national vaccination campaign in protecting against serious morbidity and mortality.

Israeli youth receive Covid-19 vaccines at a Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center in Petah Tikva, on June 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Warning of the dangers posed by the Delta variant, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu urged Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Thursday to start giving Israelis a third coronavirus vaccine dose in August, despite Pfizer tests on the third dose having not yet been completed.

Netanyahu said in a video released on his social media channels that “from conversations I’ve had with some of the best experts in the world, I believe the third vaccine [dose] should be given to the over-50 population starting in August, in order to finish the task until the end of September.”

He said no one currently knows when a drop in immunity will leave the population susceptible to infection once again.

Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, however, told Channel 12 Thursday that statistics show the Delta variant is causing far fewer serious cases in Israel than previous infection waves.

Numbers show that 2.5% of all people confirmed with COVID-19 became seriously sick during previous waves (20-30 people per 1,000 cases). In this wave, however, no more than 0.5% (3-5 per 1,000) have fallen seriously ill.

The network also reported that some 90% of current infections in Israel are of the Delta variant.

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