Calling Israel a ‘banana republic,’ Pfizer has frozen further deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine until it gets paid for the last 2.5 million doses, Israeli media reported. The blow comes amid political infighting in Tel Aviv.
Some 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected in Israel on Sunday, after Passover ended, but were delayed until further notice on grounds that the previous shipment hadn’t been paid for, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Pfizer executives reportedly called Israel a “banana republic” and said they couldn’t understand how something like this could happen in an organized country, a correspondent for Galatz, the Israeli army radio, said Monday on ‘Good Morning Israel.’
Pfizer’s only official comment was that its original contract with Israel for an unspecified number of doses, signed in November 2020, had expired and that they were working to “update the agreement” and “supply additional vaccines to the country.”
“While this work continues, shipments may be adjusted,” Pfizer added in a statement.
Israel has reportedly bought 15 million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as 12 million more of the Moderna and AstraZeneca jabs. The country has spent 2.6 billion shekels ($788 million), with another 2.5 billion shekels ($758 million) reserved for further purchases, a health ministry representative told legislators last month.
The figures, disclosed for the first time at the request from Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, showed that Israel had paid a price per dose “much higher” than previously believed.
The Israeli health ministry sought approval to get 30 million more doses, but the meeting they requested for last Monday was canceled due to a conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Benny Gantz, Israeli media reported.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Gantz called the meeting off because Netanyahu refused to confirm Gantz as justice minister, leaving him in acting capacity after his term expired on April 1. However, Gantz’s office said that the purchase of the 2.5 million Pfizer vaccines had already been approved and that the payment delay was the fault of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. The health ministry has not commented on the situation.
Netanyahu – who has been PM since 2009 – has been in an uneasy coalition government with his chief rival Gantz since May 2020, after the third election in the span of a year failed to produce a viable majority coalition. Another snap election was held last month, and there are reports a new government could be announced as early as Tuesday.
Gantz’s interest in the justice ministry might be related to the fact that Netanyahu is currently facing a series of corruption charges. In a court hearing on Monday, prosecutors alleged he pressured a news site Walla to give him favorable coverage.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was supposed to visit Israel in early March to negotiate further deliveries and possibly even production of the Covid-19 vaccine there. He canceled the trip five days before its scheduled date, however, saying he and his team weren’t fully vaccinated and would gladly come later after “coronavirus restrictions are lifted or improve, and allow better visiting conditions.”
However, a NGO critical of Likud called Achrayut Leumit (National Responsibility) called on the government to prevent Bourla’s visit, calling it “prohibited election propaganda” using health ministry resources to boost Netanyahu’s election prospects.
An estimated 6,248 people have died in Israel after testing positive for Covid-19, since the beginning of the pandemic.