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Eager to buy more vaccines, Netanyahu bypasses government approval

An excess of 1.5-billion shekel in the Finance Ministry will be used to stock up on injections, according to Hebrew media report

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of the DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines landing at Ben-Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020. (Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

*This article was updated on April 20 to reflect official announcement of the vaccine purchase ALL ISRAEL NEWS reported on earlier.

Israel’s recently-delayed purchase of millions more vaccines will no longer be held up by a Cabinet vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced on Monday that they signed an agreement with Pfizer to acquire millions of vaccines – enough to cover the population through 2022.

They did not specify the exact number vaccines or the cost.

"I recently spoke with my friends, the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna. There were several obstacles in Israel that we needed to overcome and we found a way to do so," Netanyahu said.

"This means that soon we will have more than enough vaccines for both adults and children. Israel will again lead the world in the fight against the coronavirus. There will be no more lockdowns; we have exited this."

According to a report on Channel 12, the Finance Ministry will use "excess funds" of 1.5-billion shekels ($460 million) to buy the shots, bypassing the need for government approval.

When asked by ALL ISRAEL NEWS how any excess funds could exist, the Finance Ministry responded, “No comment.”

Israel has not had a budget for two years and is just coming off a hard-fought year with a pandemic that decimated the Israeli economy, drove unemployment and forced the closure of thousands of businesses.

Netanyahu had long stated he wants another 36 million vaccines, but approval was held up by Defense Minister Benny Gantz who used the situation to demand that the prime minister appoint a permanent justice minister first.

Still with no justice minister, Israel will instead purchase 18 million additional doses from Pfizer and Moderna for $460 million and with no need for a vote, according to the Channel 12 report. The Blue and White party is reportedly okay with this decision.

This comes after a Pfizer official allegedly called Israel a banana republic for failing to close the deal a few weeks ago.

Israel still has enough doses left in stock to inoculate its remaining 4 million citizens including children plus give shots to those who have recovered from COVID, according to the Health Ministry.

This is perfect timing, however, as Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said a third dose of his company’s shot will be necessary “between 6-12 months” after the first two doses – and then annually.

“A likely scenario is that there will likely be a need for a third dose somewhere between 6 to 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed,” he said, adding that the entire global population should be vaccinated as soon as possible in order to suppress variants.

Bourla – whose company stands to gain untold billions from a lifetime supply of vaccines – has become a national hero of sorts. He was honored during Israel’s main Independence Day celebration on Wednesday for helping the nation carry out the world’s most successful vaccination campaign.

“Together we are demonstrating that through mass vaccination we can defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives,” he said in a recorded message.

Israel already signed on with Pfizer in November when Netanyahu agreed to share medical data from the vaccination campaign with the pharmaceutical company.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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