Israel in advanced negotiations for Pfizer corona vaccine, officials claim

Netanyahu: ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ * Biden calls on Americans to remain patient and realistic

Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)
Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020
Israeli officials claimed that they are in advanced negotiations with the biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. on Monday, after the company announced its vaccine candidate was found to be at least 90% effective.
“My goal at the moment is to do one thing – to bring vaccines to you citizens of Israel, and we will do so,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. “This means that the end is visible. I said a few days ago that I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think the locomotive has already left the tunnel.”
The Pfizer announcement is a major victory in the fight against the pandemic, which has killed more than a million people and battered the world’s economy.
The vaccine, known as BNT162b2, is based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology, and supported by Pfizer’s global vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities. According to the company’s website, it encodes an optimized SARS-CoV-2 full length spike glycoprotein, which is the target of virus neutralizing antibodies.
BioNTech is a next generation immunotherapy company pioneering therapies for cancer and other serious diseases. It has been working with Pfizer on the development of a coronavirus vaccine since close to the start of the pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Finance Minister Israel Katz said Monday that the country had asked the US government to help it access Pfizer’s potential coronavirus vaccine. He said he had discussed the vaccine during talks with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
“I asked Mnuchin for help in supplying the vaccine to Israel in parallel with its supply to the United States, as part of an agreement signed between the US administration and the company for the immediate delivery of 600 million doses,” Katz said in a statement.
Israel already has an agreement with Moderna Inc. and Arcturus, both American companies, for the future purchase of their potential COVID-19 vaccines. A senior official in the Health Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the country has been in talks with other companies as well.
Moderna’s vaccine is based on a similar mRNA platform to that of Pfizer.
Hadassah-University Medical Center said last week that it would purchase and bring some 1.5 million doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine candidate, Sputnik V, to Israel in the coming months.
Pfizer has signed advance purchase agreements for 100 million doses of its vaccine with the US and double that with the European Union, with options for more. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNN on Monday that the vaccine will be free to all American citizens.
A source in the know at the Health Ministry said that Pfizer is “not an easy counterpart” and that while Israel could be in negotiations with Pfizer, the company has “likely been approached by every country in the world” and that Israel is unlikely to be high on Pfizer’s list.
The company said it expects to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Vaccination requires two doses, which means half that number of people can be treated.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on 43,500 subjects in six countries, and so far, no major side effects have been found. The subjects were tested in the United States, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey; similar results were obtained in all of these countries.
“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Bourla said in a statement Monday morning. “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen. With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”
“This is a victory for innovation, science and a global collaborative effort,” said Prof. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech co-founder and CEO.
Pfizer is one of about a dozen companies in the world at advanced stages of developing a coronavirus vaccine, but it is the first to present such encouraging findings after such an extensive experiment.
Following the announcement, the Russian Health Ministry said that its vaccine was also proven to be more than 90% effective.
The results released on Monday were the first interim analysis of the company’s global Phase III study, and safety and efficacy data must continue to be collected before approval. The company said that it plans to submit for Emergency Use Authorization to the US Food and Drug Administration after the required safety milestone is achieved, which should occur in the third week of November.
The Phase III clinical trial will then need to continue through to the final analysis on 164 confirmed cases; the current analysis evaluated only 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in-trial participants.
“These are interesting first signals, but again they are only communicated in press releases,” said Marylyn Addo, head of the Tropical Medicine Section at University Medical Center Eppendorf in Germany.
“Primary data are not yet available, and a peer-reviewed publication is still pending,” she said. “We still have to wait for the exact data before we can make a final assessment. At present, there are still few details about the exact data, for example regarding different age groups and in which groups the 94 cases occurred exactly.”
Similarly, Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College in London, said of the announcement: “It’s good news, but it’s not ‘overnight success’ good news.”
Altmann cautioned that this and other potentially successful vaccines would still need to be approved and delivered to people worldwide, and this will still take many months.
Sahin said he estimates the vaccine will protect those who are vaccinated for a year, but health officials have said it is still too early to determine with certainty. Moreover, with such limited data, experts have cautioned that the long-term effects of the vaccine are still unknown.
President-elect Joe Biden called the announcement “excellent news” and a “cause for hope” for all Americans. But he, too, cautioned that the news does not mean a cure has been found, and that the public should be patient, realistic and still follow health recommendations.
“America is still losing over 1,000 people a day from COVID-19, and that number is rising — and will continue to get worse unless we make progress on masking and other immediate actions,” Biden said. “That is the reality for now, and for the next few months. Today’s announcement promises the chance to change that next year, but the tasks before us now remain the same.
“Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year,” he continued. “Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”
In contrast, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter in all caps Monday morning: “VACCINE COMING SOON” and “SUCH GREAT NEWS!”
Following the report, world stock markets soared.