Netanyahu Tells Pfizer CEO to Wait With Vaccine Purchase Due to Political Crisis

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a DHL plane carrying a first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, December 9, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool via Reuters)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and told him that due to the political situation in Israel following the election last week, the state will need several more days to finalize a purchasing agreement for more vaccines.

The government was supposed to meet Monday to approve a NIS 6.7 billion budget for the procurement, with NIS 3.5 billion set for the purchase of 36 million Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

However, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz vetoed the meeting over Netanyahu’s to approve his appointment as Justice Minister.

In an attempt to prevent the cancellation of the cabinet meeting on vaccine contracts scheduled for Monday, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz sent a letter to Defense Minister Benny Gantz requesting him to go ahead with the arrangement.

Gantz has been serving as interim justice minister since Avi Nissenkorn resigned from the post earlier this year and is demanding a permanent appointment before his term expires at the beginning of April.

According to Katz, unless the government approves the vaccine budget, Israel might miss out on the chance to purchase vaccines for the upcoming year, including inoculations for children.

“The investment in vaccines saves lives and allows for setting the economy in motion,” he wrote on social media. “Israel needs to continue to be the leading country in the world on the issue of vaccines, and political disagreements must not prevent the continued treatment of urgent health and economic issue.”

The Likud echoed a similar sentiment in its statement. “For the sake of appointments and jobs, Gantz is halting the singing of contracts for millions of vaccines that are needed for Israelis in the next round of vaccination. If the government doesn’t approve the contracts immediately, inoculation manufacturers can cancel them and send [the vaccines] to other countries. Benny Gantz is acting irresponsibly and is putting the well-being and health of every Israeli at risk.”

Blue and White sent a letter to the Cabinet Secretariat requesting them to assure that every minister signs a non-disclosure agreement, and as soon as Blue and White received copies of those, “within 48 hours, they would hold a cabinet meeting.” Signing non-disclosure agreements is necessary as contracts with vaccine manufacturers are confidential.

Government sources familiar with the matter said that the initiative to hold the cabinet meeting was Gantz’s in the first place. “Only on Thursday, [Gantz] pushed to hold the meeting. Now, for political reasons, it no longer suits him,” Likud confirmed in a statement.

In response, a source close to Gantz said that “[Netanyahu] is trying to silence the judiciary system and intimidate it, which is a danger to Israeli democracy, and we will fight it.”

“As for the governmental proposal, it is full of loopholes, and it is not clear why it is so urgent, and why are there requests for new budgets when there are [funds] left over from the existing ones?”