image Photo: Flash90

Israel shares vaccines internationally

[Editor’s Note: The post has been updated to reflect the suspension of Israel’s donation program abroad].

Israel is now donating surplus COVID-19 vaccines to friendly nations.

After stating that his nation has “more than enough” to inoculate its own citizens, the Israeli leader said he had personally decided to share what he called a symbolic number of doses to reward allies.

“It was done in return for things we already received, through many contacts in various areas that I will not detail here,” he said, highlighting that the gift of potentially-lifesaving supplies “absolutely buys goodwill.”

While Netanyahu did not detail which countries benefited by Israel’s largesse, the Kan public broadcaster reported that about 100,000 Moderna Inc. vaccines are being delivered to 15 allied states. Among them are nations that have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including Guatemala and Honduras; in addition to others forging stronger ties with the Jewish State in African and Europe.

Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic Tomas Petricek confirmed that Prague has already received several thousand Moderna doses, following requests by his nation’s President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš  requesting Israel’s help. The European Union member announced plans in December 2020 to add a diplomatic presence to its Jerusalem office, just shy of opening a full embassy.

Officials in Guatemala, which opened its Israel embassy in Jerusalem last year, said 5,000 doses are expected to arrive from Israel today.

Honduras, which declared intent to relocate its own embassy to the Israeli capital, is expecting same amount. According to government spokesman Carlos Madero, the Central American country has dispatched its own Air Force plane to Israel to pick up the vaccines, which will be first administered to health care personnel.

Israel also donated a shipment of vaccines to the Palestinians, following up on having helped kicked off the territories own campaign with a critical first shipment of 2,000 Moderna doses last month. Jerusalem has faced widespread international criticism for not assuming full responsibility for inoculating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the latter of which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas terror group committed to Israel’s annihilation. It should be noted, however, that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the healthcare of its own population according to the Oslo Accords, and Ramallah has repeatedly announced its own plans to obtain the vaccine elsewhere.

Israel has operated one of the world’s swiftest campaigns with imports of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc vaccines. Of the nine million population in the country, which has universal healthcare, nearly half have received a first dose, and a third have received both doses since the rollout began on 19 December.

It should be stressed that recipients include all Israeli citizens – whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or non-affiliated. Israeli is also vaccinating Palestinians who enter the country for work, as well as Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who are non-citizens. Journalists have also been vaccinated free-of-charge, courtesy of the Israeli government.

Some of Netanyahu’s political rivals in the upcoming 23 March election criticized the donations because of his unilateral decision to do so, without providing prior notice to the cabinet or public.

Netanyahu “thinks he is running a kingdom and not a state. Such a move requires discussion and approval,” fumed Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s centrist coalition partner and now election competitor, on Twitter.

Israel is the first nation to provide the first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed in a landmark moment for a world desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.

The latest Israeli research published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday shows that both doses of the Pfizer shot to be 95% effective, cutting symptomatic COVID-19 cases by 94% across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much. The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57% effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks. Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital also collaborated in the study.

As infections have dropped, Israel has eased its third national lockdown and gradually reopened swathes of its economy over the past two weeks, including some work places and schools. Street shops, malls and some leisure facilities reopened their doors to all at the start of the week, while entrance to recreational venues such as theater, gyms and hotels is limited to people who have been fully immunized by vaccine or recovery from the disease.

One of the country’s first live concerts was performed in Tel Aviv last night, after months of gatherings being banned under coronavirus restrictions.

In a video statement published on his official Facebook page after meeting with Health Ministry officials, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel aims to fully reopen its economy by April after having vaccinated all of the country’s eligible population.

He also revealed that he is holding talks with vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna to open facilities in Israel. “We are going to establish two factories here that will make Israel part of the global vaccine supply chain,” he said.

In a further statement obtained by TV7, the Israeli leader repeated his call for Israelis to observe the nationwide curfew set to go into effect tonight until Sunday morning during the Purim holiday.

Last Purim there was a dangerous outbreak that infected very many and you remember that we had to close down the country. This cannot recur. This Purim, on the contrary, we are all commanded to keep the rules. We can rejoice. We can put on costumes. However, we must follow the rules. This is incredibly important because we really are on the verge of exiting from the pandemic,” he said.

The holiday curfew prohibits departure from one’s home over 1,000 meters away from 8:30 PM until 5:00 AM the following morning except for essential purposes from 25 February until the morning of 28 February. All non-essential businesses must remain closed during these hours, all parties are banned, and the fines for violations is ₪ 500 shekels ($152.34).