The leaders of Israel, Austria and Denmark announced Thursday 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 in Jerusalem, alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
“We don’t know how long… [current coronavirus] vaccines will hold up,” Netanyahu said. “Is it half a year, is it a year, is it two years, is it more, is it less? We don’t know. Therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic, or mutations.”
Netanyahu said that “together we’re starting here something that I think will galvanize the imagination of the world… other countries have already called me and they’ve said, ‘We want to be part of this effort.’”
He did not specify the fund amount or the production capacity goal.
Frederiksen said the three countries “have been working very closely together” since the start of the pandemic and that “all have promising research that could pave the way for [a] next-generation platform.”
She said they “would like also to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials.”
“We cannot allow us to be caught off-guard once again. We have new mutations, maybe new pandemics, and maybe new health crises will endanger our societies again,” Federiksen warned.
The countries share a vision for the future that “timely access to vaccines will be critical for our societies in the years to come,” she said, adding that Denmark and Austria are “very inspired by Israel’s ability to roll out the vaccines” for the coronavirus so efficiently.
Kurz hailed Netanyahu, who he said was one of the first to identify the great danger of the pandemic in early 2020 and was “maybe the main reason why we reacted quite early in Austria.”
Israel is also now “the first country in the world that shows that it is possible to defeat the virus,” he said. “The world is looking to Israel with admiration.”
Israel, among the world leaders in COVID-19 vaccinations per capita, launched a massive inoculation operation in December, backed by a deal with US pharma giant Pfizer, which mounted an airlift of its vaccine developed with German firm BioNTech in exchange for biomedical data on its effects. Israel also reportedly paid significantly more for the shots than other countries, in order to get them early.
The Jewish state has so far administered at least one of two vaccine doses to more than half of the country’s nine million-strong population, and led a series of large-scale studies that have so far confirmed the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Now, “we have to prepare… for the next stages of the pandemic,” Kurz added, saying that vaccine production is a complex process, and as part of the partnership on production each country will focus on specific elements of the process.
Denmark and Austria are European Union members, and the Israeli partnership has elicited criticism from fellow EU state France, which said the European system remained the best way to guarantee “solidarity” within the bloc.
Kurz had announced the alliance on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines,” leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.
But France’s foreign ministry defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework.”
“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” France said in a statement late Wednesday.
But Kurz on Thursday said: “We need to cooperate on this issue within the European Union… but we also need to cooperate worldwide.”
Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu took the two European leaders to a gym in the central Israeli city of Modi’in to show off Israel’s Green Pass system, which now allows fully vaccinated or recovered individuals to take part in various activities, including going to the gym.
“In some four-five weeks we’ll finish vaccinating all of the over-50s,” Netanyahu said. “In eight weeks we’ll finish vaccinating everyone in Israel over 16, except for those people who refuse to vaccinate under any circumstances.”
However, Netanyahu added it was likely that “we will need to continue wearing masks for a while” due to the various virus variants. “It’s better to be careful,” he said. “It’s a small price to pay.”