Israel agreed a deal with Pfizer Inc. to expedite deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine so that all citizens over 16 can be inoculated by the end of March, in return for extensive data on the inoculation program.
More 1.7 million Israelis, or about 18% of its population, have already received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a larger proportion than in any other country. Officials had warned that pace would slow with new vaccine supplies not expected before February.
But late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement the next Pfizer shipment was now expected on Sunday, and that deliveries would be increased. The deal came after 17 conversations with Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla, he said, adding Israel would serve as a “global model state” and share data with the company and other countries to “develop strategies” to end the outbreak.
Israel credits its universal health coverage, centralized system and extensive digitized records for enabling the fast distribution and analysis of the vaccine effort.
The country was also due to get its first shipment of doses from Moderna Inc. on Thursday.
While the vaccine effort is progressing rapidly, officials are contending with a surge in coronavirus cases that has led to a tightened lockdown starting Friday. Restrictions put in place from late December failed to tame the virus. Schools and non-essential businesses will now be closed.
Netanyahu, whose corruption trial will soon move into a higher gear, is hoping the vaccine program will enable him to reopen Israel’s economy in time to get a boost ahead of the country’s fourth election in two years on March 23.
Bank of Israel researchers said this week that a rapid vaccination effort could lead to output expanding 6.3% this year and 5.8% in 2022.
So far, only Israelis over 60 or with chronic conditions have been eligible for a shot — and about 75% of vaccines have gone to that group so far, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Bloomberg TV.