Israel, Austria, Denmark launch joint vaccine initiative

Kurz: World looks at Israel with admiration as first country vaccinating its population.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Israel, Austria and Denmark plan to work together on developing and producing vaccines for future pandemics and variants of COVID-19, the countries’ leaders announced together in Jerusalem on Thursday.
“Efforts for production of future vaccines is something we have to do, because we probably will need protection for the future,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We had SARS, Ebola and other diseases, and now we have COVID. We have to make sure we can protect our people and also help other countries and humanity at large.”
Joint investment in production facilities for vaccines, Netanyahu added, “reflects the respect we have for each other, and the confidence we have in working together to protect the health of our people.”
Netanyahu expressed pride in Israel’s “really excellent” health services, pointing out that Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, was ranked one of the top 10 hospitals in the world. He recounted a drug being developed in Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) in Tel Aviv, taken with an inhaler, that has proven effective in treating COVID-19 in early trials.
“We want to have vaccines and therapeutic drugs for those cases when the vaccines don’t work,” he said.
The local vaccine production initiative has “galvanized the imagination of the world,” Netanyahu said. “We agreed that if other nations want to join us, we’ll discuss it among ourselves and welcome others to come.”
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the three countries have a good starting-off point for the project, because they have highly developed life science industries.
“We can bring our knowledge together in a kind of a collective effort to secure better, more reliable access to vaccines,” she said. “We would like also to explore [together] possible cooperation in clinical trials.”
Frederiksen said the meeting “provided [her] with a lot of inspiration for how we can work closer together when it comes to research and production capacities.”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz praised Netanyahu’s efforts in negotiating an early and quick vaccine rollout for Israel.
“At the moment, the world is looking at Israel with admiration because under your leadership, Israel is the first country in the world vaccinating its population,” he said to Netanyahu. “Israel is the first country in the world that shows it’s possible to defeat the virus.”
Kurz recounted speaking on the phone with Netanyahu in early 2020: “He told me this virus will be a huge threat to the world… That’s maybe the main reason why we reacted quite early in Austria when the first wave hit us hard in the EU.”
Kurz and Netanyahu have had a close relationship since the former became chancellor at age 27 in 2013, and they speak often.
Kurz established a forum called “First Movers” last year, which includes Netanyahu and Frederiksen as well as the leaders of Australia, Norway, Greece, Czech Republic, Singapore and New Zealand, to discuss best practices in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This pandemic can only be overcome through global cooperation,” Kurz said. “Vaccines will allow us to return to normality in the summer, but we have to prepare already now for the next stages of the pandemic after the summer.”
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu took Kurz and Frederiksen to a gym in Modi’in to show them how the “green passport” program works, allowing Israelis who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, or recovered from it, to return to engaging in certain indoor activities.
Kurz and Frederiksen have broken with the EU in planning to work with Israel on vaccine development and production, as well as regulation.
Israel, which does not currently have its own, independent regulatory body, rolled out the Pfizer vaccine to its citizens after the US Centers for Disease Control approved it. The EU regulatory process has slowed down the distribution of vaccines in Europe, with the countries seeking to work together on a streamlined regulatory process of their own.
Netanyahu said last week that he has been in talks with Pfizer and Moderna – the first two COVID-19 vaccine producers – to begin local production, and has spoken with six other countries to build joint facilities.
The EU allows the use of vaccines made by Pfizer with German partner BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which are produced in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
There has been rising frustration in Europe over the slow rollout of vaccines that has trailed far behind Israel’s effort.
Kurz said it was right that the EU procures vaccines for its member states, but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had been too slow to approve them, and the chancellor lambasted pharmaceutical companies’ supply bottlenecks.
“We must therefore prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines,” Kurz said in a statement on Tuesday.
The European Commission said member states were free to strike separate deals should they wish to. “It’s not that the strategy unraveled or it goes against the strategy, not at all,” spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said.
A growing number of EU countries have placed side orders for vaccines from Russia and China, even though the EMA has yet to rule on whether they are both safe and effective.
Reuters contributed to this report.