Unsourced information has been circulating on social media in the past few days to the effect that, because of Israel's boasting about being in first place in the world for the rate of vaccination against Covid-19, US company Pfizer has been pressured into halting further supplies of vaccines to it.
The text states: "Pfizer's CEO ordered a consignment of vaccines to Israel in January to be stopped despite the fact that three times the price per vaccination had been paid for it. Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) had been required to keep the number of vaccines that Israel received confidential, and instead of this, despite his promise, he made a global advertising campaign out of it. Now, Pfizer in the US has been summoned to a Senate hearing, and here the vaccinations will be halted until further notice."
Although the message quotes no source, it has been widely shared, and so we asked Pfizer for comment. The response was: "This is fake news. We are dispatching the vaccines as fast as possible, in accordance with the agreements with the various countries. No agreement affects any other agreement that we have signed. The timetables are liable to be affected slightly by regulation, production capacity and production schedules, but the intention is to supply to each country the quantity promised over the life of the contract. We believe in our ability to abide by all the agreements."
A mixture of true and false
If the message about a hiatus in supply of vaccines is analyzed, it emerges as a mixture of truth and falsehood. Rapid inoculation of the population in Israel could indeed lead to a shortage of Pfizer vaccines, but not because of the deliberate halting of a consignment, but because in the first place it was planned to dispatch the vaccines gradually over the course of the year.
As far as the price is concerned, there is no information indicating that Israel paid three times the regular price for each vaccine shot. The information emanating from the government indicates a price fairly close to that paid by countries that reserved vaccines a long time before us, and in any event it is not more than double the cheapest price.
Was the government required to maintain confidentiality about the quantity of vaccines it received? Yes, and that does apparently stem from Pfizer's desire not to arouse anger or excessive bargaining on the part of countries that have received lower allocations. Officially, Israel maintained confidentiality, even if, unofficially, it can be understood that some two million shots of vaccine reached Israel.
This quantity is a drop in the ocean for countries like the US and the UK. What's more, they know that the high proportion of the population vaccinated in Israel stems from the population's small size and the rate at which inoculations are being administered, and not from the receipt of a larger quantity of vaccines.
In Germany, there has been an outcry over the fact that their inoculation campaign began after those of the UK, Israel, and the US, but the complaints were not directed at Pfizer, and certainly not at Israel, but at the EU regulator, who demanded more time to approve the vaccine.
It may well be that Pfizer would prefer it if Israel were not to take such showy pride in its rate of inoculations and not provoke frustration among other countries, but that is probably at the level of underlying sentiment, and not as a cause for changing or breaching the agreement.
As for Pfizer being summoned to appear before the US Senate, there is no evidence that such a thing happened. In any case, Pfizer did not receive US government support for developing its vaccine, and so there is not much pressure that the US government can bring to bear on the company.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 5, 2021
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