Vaccine gave Netanyahu a shot in the arm at the polls

Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign may have given Netanyahu the booster shot he needed to win at the polls.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Months before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent election success Tuesday, the Israeli leader had negotiated deals with coronavirus vaccine manufacturers that now appear to have allowed him to become a coronavirus savior after an arguably very mixed performance in dealing with the pandemic.

Ironically, Netanyahu appears in retrospect to have been given a leg up by his opposition. While Netanyahu argued for elections in June, likely hoping to buy more time to vaccinate the population and  wanting to avoid the bad optics of voters surrounded by election officials in hazmat suits, his coalition partner (read: opponent) Benny Gantz wanted the election pushed up.

Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party, got what he wanted – a spring election. He also got a population with the memory of Netanyahu’s vaccine achievements still fresh in its mind.

Few would have expected it. U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer only announced it was proceeding with the production of its coronavirus vaccine five months ago in October.

Within weeks Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a contract with Pfizer for 8 million doses of its vaccine. Shortly after, it was revealed that Pfizer would provide enough vaccines to inoculate all Israelis ages 16 and up.

With his uncanny knack for shmoozing up the corporate world, Netanyahu convinced Pfizer to use Israel as a giant test pad for its vaccine. In return for selling Israel enough doses to rapidly vaccinate its population, Israel would share the data with Pfizer. It was a win-win for both parties.

With the first planeloads of medicine having barely landed in Israel, Gantz backed out of the coalition and the government feel in December. As the first doses of Pfizer vaccine were being administered, the country plunged into its fourth election campaign in two years.

On Election Day, 5.2 million of Israel’s 9.2 million citizens had received at least one shot of the Pfizer vaccine. With 4.6 million people fully vaccinated, the economy started to open weeks prior.

Millions of children have returned to some form of school framework. Beaches, shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues have opened their doors – some for the first time in almost a year – and the country is breathing a huge sigh of relieve as Israel was praised in news reports around the world for the success of its vaccination program.

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In December, Netanyahu was trailing in public opinion polls. Predictions said his handling of the pandemic could be his undoing, They said Likud would struggle to win 27 Knesset seats. The party is on track to win 32 seats. Its closest rival, the Yesh Atid party, is expected to manage at most 18.

It is fair to say that his vaccine success might have given Netanyahu the shot in the arm he needed at the polls.