Coronavirus: Israel eyes vaccine production with Hungary, Czech

The leaders discussed the exchange of green passports for tourism and shared plans to integrate the two countries into Israel's plans to build an international vaccine manufacturing corporation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses COVID-19 vaccine cooperation withHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses COVID-19 vaccine cooperation withHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
The Czech Republic and Hungary are interested in collaboration with Israel on the production in Israel of a vaccine against COVID-19. 
On Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Czech and Hungarian counterparts, Andrej Babis and Viktor Orban to discuss the initiative as well as joint research projects.
The conversation focused on "how we can involve both the Czech Republic and Hungary in the international plant that we want to build here in Israel for the production of the vaccines of the future, we discussed this in considerable detail," Netanyahu said.
At present Israel has to import its vaccines but in the future Netanyahu wants Israel to create an international vaccine manufacturing corporation based in Israel to ensure that the country's citizens can remain protected agains the virus and to allow for the export of the vaccines.
Orban thanked Netanyahu for his help with the Hungarian vaccine program noting that Israel was a role model in this regard.  
Israel is the "world champion in fighting against the pandemic," Orban said, as he lauded Netanyahu's leadership.
Babiš told Netanyahu that it was "reassuring" for his country to have a friend it could rely on, noting that Israel has sent the Czech Republic 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
The three leaders also discussed joint research projects and the ability of their vaccinated citizens to travel between the three countries.
Netanyahu touted the close ties between the three countries explaining that "in the spirit of this friendship, [Babis and Orban] came to Jerusalem to see how we could cooperate on the issue of the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic."
Netanyahu also boasted about the personal relationship he has with the two leaders, saying "When I say "close friends" I mean it. Both are close personal friends, but also leaders who have made their countries good friends of Israel, even more than they have been in the past.
Hungary said on Thursday it was paying the equivalent of about $37.50 per dose for Chinese company Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine and $9.95 per dose for the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine, adding it was publishing the purchase contracts to push for more transparency.
"Hungary's government stands for making vaccine contracts public," Orban's chief of staff Gergely Gulyas wrote on Facebook, attaching 30 pages of documents that appeared to be the vaccine contracts.
"We ask the European Commission that it also publish the contracts signed by Brussels," Gulyas added.
Hungary was the first EU nation to buy and use Chinese or Russian jabs and initially came under fire for its separate approval process and negotiations for the vaccines. More recently, several European countries have also expressed interest in buying those vaccines as shipments from Western suppliers lagged.
Hungary used multiple suppliers to secure the most vaccines per capita in the EU, and also inoculated the highest number of people per capita in Europe, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
It has only used 65% of its available vaccines as supply has risen in recent weeks.
Orban wants to immunize as many people as he can quickly to be able to reopen the country after a new lockdown imposed this week, closing all schools and most shops in an effort to contain a record rise of coronavirus cases.
Hungary's latest data showed a record 8,312 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, with 172 deaths.
A delivery of 450,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on Thursday took shipments from China to 1 million doses.
In the contracts, Hungary's National Public Health Centre commits to paying 150 million euros plus tax for 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, well over the price of Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.
It agreed to pay $20 million for 2 million doses of Sputnik V.
Hungary had given a first dose of a vaccine to 1.149 million people as of Thursday.
Reuters contributed to this report