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Barely three weeks after Israel’s first citizen received the BioNTech / Pfizer boost – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself – the country has led the rest of the world with vaccinations, covering around 20% of its population at this time. day.
The reasons for this meteoric start are emerging quickly: Netanyahu revealed on January 7 that Israel had reached a deal with Pfizer to exchange citizen data for 10 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, including a pledge of 400,000 shipments at 700,000 doses each week.
As part of this deal, Israel will provide details to Pfizer (as well as the World Health Organization) on the age, gender and medical history of those who receive the vaccine, as well as its side effects and effectiveness. No identifying information will be given in order to maintain some confidentiality.
Ten million doses are a drop in the ocean for Pfizer, which has pledged to produce 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine by 2021 – and is expected to produce more. Once regulatory approval came in mid-December – before the EU – Israel waited with its syringes out, making it worth it for Pfizer to withdraw the first vaccines from its production line to one of the first countries to use them.
The news couldn’t come soon enough for Israel. It has reported more than 495,000 cases of COVID-19 and 3,689 deaths since the start of the pandemic – alarming numbers for the small country of 9 million people.
Pfizer clearly has a lot to gain by rolling out its vaccine in Israel, turning it into a global pilot for a rapid vaccination campaign – and the depth of results now available for Pfizer, especially if successful, may boost marketing globally. whole.
“We convinced them that if they first give us their vaccine, we will know exactly how to administer it as soon as possible – and that is precisely what has happened,” the Israeli minister said. Health Yuli Edelstein to POLITICO via his spokesperson. “We were prepared early, signed the deals early, and told pharmaceuticals they would see results early. It’s a win-win situation.
With a few days when more than 150,000 people are getting vaccinated, Edelstein said he was confident of Israel’s success: “We continue to lead the world.”
Yet health officials are not answering direct questions about the exact number of doses Israel got or how much it paid for, only saying the country signed secret deals with manufacturers at the start of the vaccination campaign.
It was also unclear what price he paid for the Pfizer jab – until January 5, when officials officially revealed that Israel had paid $ 30 per dose. That’s more than double the amount reported by Belgium, for example, which accidentally revealed its vaccine price list when the Belgian Secretary of State tweeted it.
Netanyahu – who hopes to be re-elected in March – has also repeatedly referred to his close relationship with the chief executives of Pfizer and Moderna, suggesting that his connections helped secure millions of doses.
“I talk to them all the time,” Netanyahu said. He added that Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, a descendant of a Jewish family in Thessaloniki, is “a great friend” of Israel.
Small country, strong health care
Israel has a mandatory public health system connected to a nationwide digital network. Healthcare maintenance organizations keep digital records of all patients, allowing any authorized computer to extract people’s medical data from birth – including past hospitalizations, prescribed medications, and vaccinations.
“An operation of this magnitude could not have taken place in a private health system,” said a head nurse at the famous Israeli Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, who preferred to remain anonymous. She has so far vaccinated hundreds of people against the coronavirus.
“I have never seen so many healthcare workers volunteer their time for a cause like this,” she explained. The sense of social solidarity and the feeling of being together contributed massively to the speed of Israel’s vaccination campaign – “perhaps more than in other countries,” she said.
For now, Israel prioritizes people over the age of 60, health workers and people with medical conditions, followed by people over 55 with underlying illnesses. At this point, over 72% of people aged 60 and over have been vaccinated.
Not without obstacles
So far, the Israelis have only received the boost from Pfizer, but the country has also made deals with Britain’s AstraZeneca and US manufacturer Moderna. The latter announced last Tuesday that his vaccine had been approved by the Israeli Ministry of Health.
Moderna pledged to deliver 6 million doses, enough to immunize 3 million people. Israel has already received the first of four shipments scheduled over the next few weeks, with a second shipment of around 480,000 doses scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.
However, bottlenecks or barriers to distribution are not resolved once the imported doses cross the border. Unlike the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which requires special storage techniques.
These jabs are managed by SLE, the logistics unit of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Thirty underground freezers located at a facility near Israel’s main international airport contain around 5 million doses, which are then repackaged in 100-dose packages and delivered across the country.
The rapid distribution of vaccines is crucial, and this is an area where the Israeli rush to get vaccinated is accelerating the effort. The interest is so high that every day queues of young people hoping to receive remaining doses form in front of the inoculation stations. WhatsApp groups filled with people contacting each other to secure those doses have also appeared.
Leading the pack
Despite major vaccination campaigns around the world, Israel has come under fire from human rights groups and news organizations for not providing vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Ministry of Health has more than 100,000 confirmed cases in the West Bank, with more than 1,100 deaths, in a population of around 3 million. Gaza has reported more than 45,000 cases in 2 million people, with more than 400 dead.
There is also the issue of cross-border trafficking: around 60,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel every day, most of whom work in the construction industry. But Israel didn’t start testing them until December, when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced that it would start testing samples.
Despite the emergency, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank has not publicly asked for Israeli help in purchasing vaccines, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is very unlikely to stand up. coordinate with Israel in any vaccination effort.
But according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is responsible for marketing Russia’s main vaccine against COVID-19, known as Sputnik V, the Palestinian Ministry of Health approved its use on Monday, with the first shipment of the coup is expected to arrive next month.
Over the weekend, Palestinian Director General of Public Health Yasser Bozyeh said the PA had also sought supplies from Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, in addition to supplies expected through COVAX, the WHO immunization program for poor and middle-income countries.
Still, Israeli media reported last Wednesday that thousands of doses had already been transmitted to the West Bank, a claim that was later dismissed by the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry.
There are also pockets of communities that could resist. Israel’s Arab minority – around 21% of the population – has shown suspicion of vaccination. And many ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are completely ignoring coronavirus control measures, leading to infection rates sometimes five times higher than in many secular cities.
In the meantime, Netanyahu has pledged to increase Israel’s vaccination rate to at least 170,000 people per day. But as many of his detractors point out, it takes more than the head of a country to guarantee such an operation.
“Personally, I am truly delighted to be a part of the vaccination efforts,” said Ichilov’s senior nurse, who is also a fierce critic of the prime minister. “The number of people wholeheartedly committed to this operation is what made it all possible. ”
This article is part of POLITICOPremium Police Service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharmacy and more, our specialist journalists keep you up to date on the topics driving the health policy agenda. E-mail [email protected] for a free trial.