JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel is in talks with other countries about a deal to unload its surplus of Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccines, doses of which are due to expire by the end of the month, officials said on Sunday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about securing more vaccines for Israel and about possible deals to swap vaccines between Israel and other countries, though he did not say which ones.
“Contacts are being handled by the Health Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council,” Bennett said.
The director-general of the Health Ministry, Hezi Levi, said in an interview with Radio 103 FM that the doses expire on July 31 and that any deal would have to win Pfizer’s approval.
He did not say how many doses Israel was looking to swap. The Haaretz newspaper put the number at about a million.
“We are negotiating with other countries,” Levi said, without naming them. “We are dealing with this day and night.”
He confirmed that such a deal had been discussed with Britain last week but said an agreement had not materialised and was “a thing of the past”.
A Pfizer spokesperson said the company was “happy to discuss potential donation requests of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine between governments on a case-by-case basis, particularly if this helps ensure the vaccine is used to protect people from this disease”.
Last month, the Palestinians rejected about a million doses from Israel, saying they were too close to their expiry date.
Israel launched one of the world’s fastest vaccine drives in December and has since vaccinated nearly 90% of people over the age of 50, a group considered to be at the highest risk.
Overall, however, around a fifth of all eligible Israelis have not yet had the vaccine, according to health ministry data.
With infections falling from more than 10,000 a day in January to single digits, Israel, with a population of 9.3 million, has dropped nearly all coronavirus curbs.
But an uptick of cases that began in mid-June, attributed to the more contagious Delta variant, may bring some restrictions back, Levi said.
Vaccination rates peaked in January and gradually fell until June, when 12 to 15-year-olds were made eligible for the jab. Delta’s spread, particularly among schoolchildren, has spurred parents to get their children inoculated and the rate has increased five-fold since early June.
Levi said Pfizer’s vaccine was about 85-88% effective against the Delta variant, a high figure but lower in comparison with its effectiveness against other variants.
He based that figure on a British study as well as recent research by the health ministry. A ministry spokesperson did not immediately provide more details about the study.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Steven ScheerEditing by Jeffrey Heller, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)