Pfizer halts corona vaccine shipments to Israel after country fails to pay

A shipment of 700,000 doses was expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday but was halted until further notice.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein meet a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines at Ben-Gurion Airport on January 10. (photo credit: MOTTI MILLROD/REUTERS)

Pfizer has halted shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Israel in outrage over the country failing to approve transfer of payment for the last 2.5 million vaccines it supplied to the country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Senior officials at Pfizer have said they are concerned that the government-in-transition will not pay up and the company does not want to be taken advantage of. They said that they do not understand how such a situation can occur in an organized country.

Army Radio reported that Pfizer called Israel a “banana republic.”
A shipment of 700,000 doses was expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday but was halted until further notice.

Israel paid for the first 10 million vaccines it received to manage the majority of its mass vaccination campaign. But when Israel started to run short at the first of the year, the company agreed to send additional doses.
The government never approved the purchase order.

So far, Israel has spent NIS 2.6 billion on coronavirus vaccines, it was revealed last month at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee. In general, the government does not discuss the cost of vaccines due to confidentiality agreements with the companies. It is understood that Israel paid much more per vaccine than any other country.

The Health Ministry had been putting pressure on the government to approve the purchase of an additional NIS 3.5 billion – more than 30 million vaccines – even before Passover and the government was set to convene last Monday. However, the meeting was postponed indefinitely due to a conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.

Gantz canceled the meeting because of Netanyahu’s refusal to approve the permanent appointment of a justice minister. His term as acting justice minister ended on April 2, three months after he took the post in place of Avi Nissenkorn, who had resigned.

A permanent appointment has still not been made.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein met Sunday night with Gantz to try to persuade him of the importance of moving forward with the payment and purchase.

A spokeswoman for Gantz told the Post that “even though the prime minister has done a lot to hurt the functioning of the government,” the alternate prime minister will “do nothing that will affect the people of Israel’s health by denying the vaccines.”

Meanwhile, health officials are concerned that Israel will miss its opportunity to purchase the vaccines, which are sought after by countries around the world.

Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash told the Post that if Israel does not speedily sign the necessary contracts that Israel may not be able to vaccinate its children or provide citizens with booster shots against vaccine-resistant variants, or if immunity wanes.

“There is real competition to buy vaccines by countries around the world,” Ash said in an interview last week. “We want to reserve our place at the top of the list and not be pushed down to the end so that we cannot get them [vaccines] when they are most needed.”

Pfizer announced that its vaccine was safe and effective against the virus for children in this age cohort. It is now seeking FDA approval. Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said over the weekend that Israeli adolescents could be vaccinated as early as May if the FDA approves the vaccines.

The vaccines have enabled Israel to open up its economy over the past month, including sending most children back to school on Monday.

The Health Ministry reported on Monday that the number of patients in serious condition continued to drop and only 0.6% of the tests performed the day before returned a positive result, marking the lowest rate since May 2020.

Some 194 new coronavirus cases were identified on Sunday out of 32,000 tests returning a positive result.
While on Sundays Israel consistently performs less tests than on other weekdays, the rate of the tests returning positive was the lowest since last May.

Moreover, the number of serious patients dropped to 327. They were 441 on the previous Monday and 543 the week before that.

Only three people succumbed to the virus on Sunday, also the lowest daily toll in months. Some 6,243 people died of COVID-19 in Israel since the beginning of the pandemic.

The government is expected to convene a cabinet meeting only on the topic of vaccines within the coming days. However, sources in the Health Ministry say they are hoping that it won’t be too late.