Israel Receives Initial Shipment of Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine

The DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine lands at  Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Israel received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday and a distributor predicted the country would have enough for about a quarter of the population by the end of 2020.

The first batch of the vaccine arrived a day earlier than originally planned.

A cargo plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport carrying what officials said were tens of thousands of doses of Pfizer Inc. vaccines for a trial run of transportation and storage procedures.

Israel plans to start administering the vaccines on Dec. 20, distributor Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend to the arrival of a DHL plane carrying the first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Wednesday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein were at Ben Gurion Airport to receive the shipment of vaccines. 

“I believe in this vaccine. I expect that it will get the requisite [regulatory] approvals in the coming days,” Netanyahu said at the airport ceremony.

“It is important to me that the citizens of Israel get vaccinated and I believe in leading by example, so I want to be an example and I will be the first person to be vaccinated in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Upon landing, the doses were immediately transferred to a special storage facility managed by Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva. The vaccine needs to be stored at -70°C, requiring special storage facilities.

Another cargo plane carrying a much larger batch of the treatment is set to arrive in Israel on Thursday afternoon, with a million more to arrive next week.

Israelis choosing to get vaccinated will reportedly receive benefits from the government, such as an exemption from the requirement to isolate upon returning from abroad or being exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that 1,719 people had tested positive for coronavirus the day before, showing a 2.5% infection rate after 69,778 tests were conducted. There are 310 people hospitalized in serious condition, with 113 on ventilators.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech agreed last month to provide Israel with eight million doses of the vaccine, which Britain became the first country to administer on Tuesday.

Israel has also ordered vaccines from Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc.

An Israeli Cabinet member said this week that Pfizer vaccines would arrive in Israel on Thursday, to be administered to the elderly and other high-risk populations, and would be followed by Moderna vaccines.

Teva Israel Chief Executive Yossi Ofek said vaccines would arrive at a greater pace during the course of the month. “We are talking about a huge estimated scope of four million vaccine [doses] by year’s end,” he told Army Radio.

A Teva spokeswoman said two vaccine doses would be required per person.

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