Report: Israel could end up with coronavirus vaccine — but not enough syringes
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Report: Israel could end up with coronavirus vaccine — but not enough syringes

Deal for inoculations with US biotech firm Moderna said to not include means to inject vaccine; official warns mass purchase of syringes is vital

A syringe injects an illustrated representation of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Paris, on May 18, 2020. (JOEL SAGET/AFP)
A syringe injects an illustrated representation of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Paris, on May 18, 2020. (JOEL SAGET/AFP)

The Health Ministry last month signed a deal with US biotech firm Moderna for the potential purchase of its coronavirus vaccine if it ends up proving effective, but a report Sunday said Israel is in danger of not being able to benefit from that deal because it hasn’t bought syringes.

According to various international reports, Moderna’s vaccine will be supplied inside small glass bottles containing ten doses each. It will have to then be transferred into individual syringes.

Anticipating that, and as countries jostle to ensure that they will be among the first to receive vaccines when they are developed, the United States has already purchased 50 million syringes at a cost of $70 million, and similar deals have been made by Canada and the United Kingdom. The European Union is estimating it will need about a billion syringes and needles to vaccinate the continent’s population.

But Israel has inked no similar deal, Channel 12 reported, citing an unnamed official “with knowledge of the details.”

“The Health Ministry has been warned by private bodies that there is a need to buy syringes,” the source was quoted as saying. “Due to the global race to a vaccine, there is real doubt regarding the ability to produce and supply syringes on time if no purchase is done ahead of time.”

The Health Ministry commented that it “will not reveal the details of the deal with Moderna.”

The reports last month on Israel’s deal with Moderna did not divulge any of its parameters. Sunday’s report said the total worth of the deal was $66 million.

The experimental vaccine will start its most important step around July 27: A 30,000-person study to prove if the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Moderna’s third-stage trials allow scientists to observe, using a large healthy population, whether the vaccine is more effective than a placebo at preventing COVID-19 and also whether it can prevent infection with the coronavirus that causes the disease.

The framework for the study was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is being conducted in collaboration with the US National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Last week, researchers reported anxiously awaited findings from the first 45 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves back in March. Sure enough, the vaccine provided a hoped-for immune boost.

Those early volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream — molecules key to blocking infection — at levels comparable to those found in people who survived COVID-19, the research team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is an essential building block that is needed to move forward with the trials that could actually determine whether the vaccine does protect against infection,” said Dr. Lisa Jackson of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle, who led the study.

Moderna has received $483 million in US government funding. It is one of five companies that the administration of US President Donald Trump is betting on to deliver, under its “Warp Speed” push for a vaccine.

The others are the Oxford vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer.

There’s no guarantee but the US government hopes to produce 300 million vaccine doses by January 2021 — record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

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

Nearly two dozen possible COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world. Candidates from China and Britain’s Oxford University also are entering final testing stages.

Moderna’s vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren’t uncommon with other vaccines — fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn’t being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

“Small price to pay for protection against COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn’t involved with the study.

Moderna’s vaccine relies on implanting the genetic code of a portion of the virus inside the human body in order to elicit an immune response. So-called messenger RNA vaccines have not been proven so far against any virus, but Moderna is confident it works.

Last week’s results only included younger adults. The first-step testing later was expanded to include dozens of older adults, the age group most at risk from COVID-19. Those results aren’t public yet but regulators are evaluating them.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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