Israel, Austria and Denmark said on Thursday they would set up a joint research and development fund and possibly production facilities for COVID-19 vaccines to ensure they had long-term supplies for booster shots or to contend with virus mutations.
European Union members Austria and Denmark have been chafing at delays in ordering, approving and distributing vaccines within here 27-member bloc that have left it trailing far behind Israel’s world-beating vaccination campaign.
After hosting his Austrian and Danish counterparts for talks and a tour of an Israeli gym open to those documented as having been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 with presumed immunity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the pact.
“Once we get over this cycle of the disease we have no guarantee that it won’t come back. We don’t know how long – nobody knows – how long these vaccines will hold up,” he said at a joint news conference. “And therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic or mutations.”
Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said he was “very happy” about an EU vaccine initiative “but we also need to cooperate worldwide”.
The European Commission has said member states were free to strike separate deals should they wish to.
The trilateral pact, Kurz said, would include investment in production plants in Europe and Israel, and each country contributing where it best can to the manufacturing cycle.
“In Austria, for example, lipid production necessary for many vaccines is already taking place,” the chancellor said.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country was looking to expand its production capacity. “We would like in common also to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials” with Israel and Austria, she said.
Netanyahu, who said 90% of eligible Israelis have either received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or recovered from the virus, has made the programme a showcase of his campaign for a March 23 election.
“We will be, together, ‘Vaccination Nations’,” he said of the deal with Austria and Denmark. “And we agreed that if other nations want to join us, we will discuss this among ourselves and welcome others to come in as well.”
Medical personnel to be vaccinated first, with general population possibly facing winter with no immunization
Israel is expected to receive up to half a million doses of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine against the coronavirus as early as December, one month earlier than originally hoped for, Channel 12 reported Monday.
According to the unsourced report, the country would receive anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000 doses of the vaccine and will devote them primarily to those working in the medical field, while the general population would not be vaccinated this winter.
The report also quoted a senior Health Ministry official as saying that the early arrival of the vaccine would have a “positive” effect on Israel’s battle against COVID-19 this winter.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase coronavirus vaccine shots, days after the US pharmaceutical firm said data suggested its vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19.
As part of the agreement with Pfizer, Netanyahu said Israel would receive 8 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 4 million Israelis. Netanyahu expressed hope that Pfizer would begin supplying the vaccine in January, pending authorization from health officials in the United States and Israel.
Last Friday, Pfizer announced that it was asking US regulators to allow emergency use of its vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could end in limited first shots being administered as early as next month.
The request came days after Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech updated its data on the effectiveness of the vaccine, announcing that it appeared to be 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19.
Pursuing another avenue to procure vaccines, Netanyahu announced Friday that Israel was also close to signing a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase “millions” of doses of its vaccine.
If signed, it would be the third deal signed by Israel to receive vaccinations, following similar deals with Pfizer and Moderna. Israel has also been in talks with Russia to receive its Sputnik V vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.
However, none of the deals guarantees a deadline for the arrival of the vaccines, and with mass global demand, it is still not clear how many doses Israel will get, and when.
Israel has also been working on a home-grown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates. Channel 12 reported Friday that it will likely be available to the public this summer.