With new Pfizer deal, Israel to restart vaccinations after 24-hour break

Immunocompromised Israelis will soon be able to receive a third booster dose; 6 people in Israel have died of COVID in the past week

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

An Israeli youth receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center of  Magen David Adom in Jerusalem on July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli youth receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center of Magen David Adom in Jerusalem on July 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Sunday evening that it would resume administering the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning, after they were halted for 24 hours following concerns of a looming shortfall.

The current stockpile of Pfizer vaccines in Israel is set to expire on July 31. Therefore, the Health Ministry originally said it would pause administering first doses after July 10, since there would not be any non-expired vaccines available for the second dose three weeks later.

But Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced Sunday morning that he had brokered a deal with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to bring forward the next shipment of vaccines from the company to August 1.

“Together with existing stocks, this ensures – from this moment – a continuous inventory of vaccines in the State of Israel,” Bennett revealed at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “I would like to emphasize: There are vaccines for everyone!”

Bennett called on anyone who has yet to be vaccinated — “mainly young people but older people as well” — to do so as soon as possible. The prime minister has been urging teenagers, the least-vaccinated age group in Israel, to get the shot, as cases continue to rise and the Delta variant takes hold.

Nachman Ash, the new director-general of the Health Ministry, told Channel 12 News that Israel has approved giving a third booster COVID shot to those who are immunocompromised, echoing earlier comments by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool via AP)

Ash said that tens of thousands of Israelis who are eligible for the third dose will be able to schedule an appointment with their HMO in the coming days. He added that the ministry “is considering” a booster dose for all those over age 60, but the decision is unlikely to come soon.

The Health Ministry has also recommended administering the shot to some children under age 12 with serious preexisting conditions. The recommendation has yet to be fully approved by the government; the Pfizer vaccine currently has FDA emergency approval only for those over age 12.

Earlier this month, Israel brokered a vaccine swap deal with South Korea, shipping 700,000 of its close-to-expiring Pfizer doses to Seoul in exchange for a future shipment of the same number. Israel has a small stockpile of Moderna vaccines which are only approved for use in those over age 18.

Bennett said Sunday that the cabinet would weigh establishing a vaccine plant in Israel, “in order to produce for ourselves locally made vaccines, without being dependent on others” to face both COVID and the threat of future pandemics.

Ash stressed on Sunday that, due to Israel’s high vaccination rates, he does not expect to see cases reach the numbers that they did in previous COVID waves.

But, he noted, that is still difficult to predict: “I don’t know if I would plan a large wedding for September.”

He added that the ministry is still considering bringing back the “Green Pass” system, which restricts certain activities to those who have been vaccinated.

As of Sunday evening, 248 Israelis had tested positive for COVID since midnight, and 263 the day before. There are 3,984 active COVID cases, with 76 people  in the hospital and 47 in serious condition, according to Health Ministry figures. Six people in Israel have died of COVID in the past week, including one person on Sunday.

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