Pfizer vaccines arrive in Israel, Netanyahu says ‘I will be the first’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will be the first to get the inoculation, to encourage everyone to be vaccinated.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein met the first planeload of Pfizer vaccines that landed in Israel Wednesday morning, promising to be the first to get inoculated against the coronavirus.

“I believe in this vaccine,” Netanyahu said at Ben Gurion Airport, welcoming the DHL freight flight from Brussels that was directed to an isolated strip to enable quick offloading of the precious cargo. “I want the citizens of Israel to be vaccinated. In order to do this, I want to serve as an example for them and I intend to be the first in the State of Israel to be vaccinated.”

“I have been serving as Prime Minister of Israel for more than a few years,” he said, “and this is one of the most moving moments that I have worked on very hard for long months, with the health minister and the people of his ministry, in order to bring relief and a solution to the coronavirus pandemic.”

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There are 3,000-4,000 doses in this initial delivery, which was brought to test the system the government has set up to store and deliver the vaccines around the country. Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept in special freezer units that can chill them to -70 centigrade. Once defrosted, they only keep five days in regular refrigerators, so they must be distributed and used quickly.

Other companies’ products that Israel has pre-bought, such as Moderna’s, can be shipped and stored in normal refrigeration units for up to 30 days.

A national storage and distribution center has been built in the Negev for the millions of doses that Israel has ordered from several different pharmaceutical companies that are developing shields against the Covid-19 virus.

Local pharmaceutical company Teva Israel-SLE has signed an exclusive agreement with the state to distribute the vaccines, although it may take on some partners to get the vital products to their destinations quickly. Company CEO Yossi Ofek told Globes Sunday that the company has two branches in the center of the country that are ready to take in the drugs.

“On both these sites there are already freezers that can chill Pfizer’s vaccinations to minus 70°C, and we are in the process of obtaining more freezers, so that within several weeks we can take in three million vaccination doses at this temperature,” Ofek said. Teva already has the capacity to store Moderna’s drug, he added.

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Hundreds of thousands of doses are expected to arrive on Thursday and Friday, and health funds were reportedly notified that they would be able to start inoculating citizens on December 20. Elder-care facilities will also be getting packages of injections, as their residents are particularly high risk.

Pfizer alone will send eight million doses, with up to half reportedly reaching Israel by the end of the month. Each person requires two injections, received several weeks apart, for the inoculation to work.

“We will start vaccinating in January at the latest,” Prof. Hezi Levi, director general of the Ministry of Health, told Army Radio.