Netanyahu swaps 10 million doses of vaccine in return for Israel becoming the test lab for nationwide coronavirus vaccination.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Israelis are test subjects in the world’s first attempt to inoculate an entire country against the coronavirus, the Globes business newspaper reported on the weekend.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that his personal connection with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla helped Israel obtain millions of highly sought-after doses of coronavirus vaccine in return for sharing data with Pfizer, but revealed few details other than that Israel would be able to vaccinate its entire adult population within the coming few months.
Under the deal, Israel will receive a up to 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine over the next 10 weeks with more than 10 million doses in total by the middle of March – enough to vaccinate all of its 9.3 million citizens over the age of 16, the report said.
In return, Israel will collect data for Pfizer including the results of the vaccinations, side effects, efficacy, and the amount of time it takes to develop antibodies to fight the virus. The data will be sorted by patient data including age, gender, preexisting conditions and other data points, but will be provided anonymously to protect patient privacy.
The project amounts to a giant research project with Israel as the laboratory and its adult citizens being the guinea pigs.
The idea of using Israel as a giant testing ground for coronavirus immunization came from at least three sources outside of the government: 1) A researcher at the Israel Institute of Biological Research that is developing Israel’s homegrown vaccine which is currently in a phase three clinical trial 2) a senior Health Ministry doctor who last fall proposed exchanging data with drug companies in return for early deliveries of vaccine, and 3) a World Health Organization official told Israeli experts that “Israel would be an ideal country for early and efficient rollout of the vaccine and could instruct the world on how to do it,” Globes reported.
Israel being a test lab for vaccine administration ended up being an attractive offering because under Israel’s health care system every citizen is a member of one of four national Health Maintenance Organizations. The HMOs work very closely with the Health Ministry and Israel’s hospitals, meaning the vaccinations could not only be administered quickly, but the system is already in place to track every single patient who is vaccinated.
Given the massive size of the project and its expected attractiveness to both drug companies and WHO, Netanyahu himself made the pitch along with some leading Israeli medical experts.
“After the idea was broached, Pfizer consulted with the WHO and the leaders of other countries,” Globes wrote. “Pfizer representatives closely scrutinized Israel’s health system, asked their questions and were shown the quality of Israel’s data systems at the Covid-19 headquarters of the Ministry of Health.”
In the end, Pfizer was impressed with Israel’s health system and the way government, HMOs, laboratories and the IDF cooperated in managing the crisis, as well as the computerized systems that were set up to track data.
The deal was apparently closed after Pfizer saw the success of Israel’s distribution of the vaccines, with up to 180,000 people getting vaccinated in one day while other countries like Germany struggled to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and were moved slowly.
“A senior WHO official told his counterpart in Israel’s Ministry of Health that they were astonished by the pace of distribution and the ability to channel the vaccinations correctly,” the report said.
In the end, both Pfizer and the WHO will receive the data and a WHO delegation is expected to arrive in February to study the Israeli vaccination program.