Israel signs official contract with Pfizer worth NIS 800 million
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
Hadassah reports 23 people vaccinated with Brilife, feeling fine.
Israel signed a formal contract with Pfizer Inc. on Friday to receive eight million doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, if successful.The Pfizer vaccine will cost the country NIS 800 million, Ynet reported – NIS 100 per dose or NIS 200 per person, as every person needs two doses to be protected.
Israel is meant to provide Pfizer with a NIS 120m. cash advance as early as this week and an additional NIS 680m. in January, when the vaccines are supposed to start arriving. “This is a great day for the State of Israel and a great day on the way to our victory over the coronavirus,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. “Today we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”The contract, which was signed by Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, Health Ministry Accountant Hassan Ismail and Pfizer’s vice president Janine Small, does not include any commitment by Pfizer to supply the vaccines to Israel. Rather, wrote Ynet, the contract includes only an intention to do so “according to circumstances.”Israel was eager to get the Pfizer vaccine after the company announced last week that an interim evaluation of its Phase III study found the candidate to be 90% effective.“Having just reached a critical milestone in our vaccine development program, the world is beginning to feel a sense of hope that a potential vaccine could actually help end this devastating global pandemic,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said upon signing the contract with Israel. “Today we finalized a critical supply agreement with the government of Israel that will provide the Israeli people with access to a COVID-19 vaccine once approved by regulatory authorities.”Netanyahu added that “Our national mission is to enable vaccination of every person in Israel… I am working with my colleagues around the world so that we can get the vaccine alongside leading countries in the world.”He said that the country has agreements with other “promising companies” and is working on more. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also welcomed the signing of the deal but warned that Israelis should not become complacent.“There is no vaccine for complacency,” he said, reminding Israelis to follow Health Ministry regulations, wear masks and social distance.On Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported that there were 748 people diagnosed with the novel virus the day before and 137 between midnight and press time on Saturday. Out of 35,719 people screened, 2.1% of people tested positive.Some 294 people were in serious condition, including 130 who were intubated. The death toll hit 2,720.Some 500,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in the country in January – enough to vaccinate 250,000 people. As such, mass vaccination will not occur in January and probably not until the middle or end of 2021 – meaning about a year from now. Moreover, even if the Pfizer vaccine is successful and Israel receives its full allotment, only four million out of close to 10 million Israeli citizens and resident non-citizens will be able to receive protection. According to Ynet, Israel requested 18.5 million vaccine doses, but due to prior commitments to the United States and Europe, Pfizer said it would not supply more than eight million.And another challenge still remains: The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius and that technology is still not available for transporting the vaccine to Israel or securing it on arrival. The company said it is working on this technology and process. Edelstein said on Friday that Israel is also working on other ways to manage the virus, such as rapid testing.Israel has vaccine deals with Moderna Inc. and Arcturus, both American companies. Hadassah-University Medical Center has signed an MOU with Russia for its Sputnik V vaccine, which last week reported 92% efficacy.Israel is also working on its own coronavirus vaccine, which was developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR). On Friday, Hadassah said it has vaccinated 23 people with Brilife, the name for IIBR’s vaccine candidate.“All 23 participants in their 20s to 50s have had the vaccine in the last two weeks and are feeling well,” said Prof. Yossi Karko, director of the Center for Clinical Research at Hadassah. “They have not suffered from any unusual side effects or medical problems following the vaccine, other than temporary sensitivity at the site of injection – as expected.”The hospital said the patients report on their feelings each day through a dedicated application and that some have come in for medical examinations and required no treatment.Ten more people are expected to be vaccinated at Hadassah this week and another seven the week after. In total, 40 people will be participating in the Phase I trial at the hospital.Some 40 volunteers are taking part in the same trial through Sheba Medical Center. The hospital’s spokesperson did not have an updated number of people vaccinated.“We wish us all success along the way,” Karko said.Israel kicked off its Phase I trial of the IIBR vaccine on November 1. A Phase II study, which will take place at additional medical centers, is supposed to start within the month. In that study, 960 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 85, including some with underlying medical conditions will be inoculated. Phase II is meant to complete safety tests and pinpoint the right doses, as well as to continue to gauge effectiveness.If the first two phases are successful, a Phase III trial of 30,000 volunteers will begin next April or May for the final stage. Once completed successfully, the vaccine can be approved, and the population can be vaccinated against the virus.IIBR’s vaccine candidate is based on a well-known method of vaccination, the institute has said. What is new is the use of a vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) – a type of virus that does not cause disease in humans. Through genetic engineering, proteins are attached to the VSV virus to form coronavirus “crowns” that are identified by the body as COVID-19. As a result, the body produces antibodies against it.The vaccine has already been tested on pigs and was found to be effective.