Israel will sign a deal on Friday with Pfizer and order millions of coronavirus vaccines that will start arriving in the country in January, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Thursday night.
The government will purchase enough of the vaccine to inoculate four million citizens, the health minister said.
“Purchasing the vaccine is enormously good news for the citizens of Israel,” Edelstein said. “The Health Ministry is making every effort to purchase different vaccines to ensure that every citizen can be vaccinated.”
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Coronavirus Cabinet that a conversation with the head of Pfizer gave him hope that vaccines were on the way.
“We will get these vaccines just like other leading countries in the world. It will start in January, and increase from month to month,” Netanyahu said.
Pfzier has said it would aim to produce another 1.3 billion doses in 2021, but many of those are also already committed. The source said that initial negotiations with the pharmaceutical giant were conducted at low levels and, as a result, no vaccine doses were purchased in advance.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that significant progress had been made in an overnight conversation between Netanyahu and Pfizer’s manager, which could lead to an agreement being signed between Israel and the company in the coming days.
In an interview with Army Radio on Thursday morning, Edelstein reminded the public that “even when there is a vaccine, we should remember the simple facts that even the flu vaccine is only 40% to 60% effective –and we have had that vaccine for many years.”
He said despite the fact that “the vaccine will help us a lot… even after there is a vaccine, we will live in the shadow of coronavirus.”
Israel already has a contract with another American company, Moderna Inc., to be among the first to receive its coronavirus vaccine candidate, assuming it is effective and safe.
Moderna announced late Wednesday that it has enough data to begin the first planned interim analysis of its Phase III trial.
Both Pfizer and Moderna use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology that is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.
A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center published Wednesday said that, “if Moderna’s results are similar to those of Pfizer, it is likely that by the end of 2020 there will be at least two vaccines approved for use against the coronavirus.”
Another vaccine that has made steady progress is Russia’s vaccine candidate, Sputnik V. Its makers have already published promising peer-reviewed Phase I/II results and, earlier this week, revealed an interim analysis of its Phase III trial that claims the vaccine is effective 92% of the time.
Professor Ze’ev Rotstein, head of the Hadassah-University Medical Center, has said that his hospital has signed a memorandum of understanding with the makers of Sputnik V to receive 1.5 million doses of its vaccine candidate if trials prove it to be successful. But he said that the Israeli government has not formally considered purchasing the Russian vaccine.
“As usual, we are serving as a pilot to show the Health Ministry the right way – and we are hoping that, over time, the government of Israel will realize that this vaccine is safe and efficient,” Rotstein said. “Then, we will be ready to pass everything necessary over to the government so that people can get vaccinated through the health funds and not Hadassah.”
But he added that if the government in the end decided it did not need the Russian vaccine, Hadassah would take upon itself to vaccinate those who want to receive it through a commercial initiative.
He claimed that the hesitation in Israel over the Russian vaccine has more to do with the US-Russia struggle over the primacy of finding the vaccine and not because of its quality. Whether the vaccine is safe and effective will be known when the Phase III trial is completed, he said.