A-G institutes lengthy approval process for foreign vaccine aid

Israel has already donated about 22,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Any plans to donate COVID-19 vaccines to foreign countries must go through a lengthy inter-ministerial approval process, according to a legal opinion Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit published on Monday.
However, the government already gave about 22,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine against coronavirus: 5,000 each to the Palestinian Authority, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Czech Republic, and 2,000 to Rwanda, KAN reported.
The Prime Minister’s Office froze the vaccine aid plan last week, following questions of its legality. National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat asked Mandelblit for his opinion in light of indications that some Israeli organizations may petition the High Court of Justice against the initiative.
The National Security Council had coordinated the entire vaccine donation plan, but Mandelblit released a five-page response on Monday, saying that, according to the State Property Law, the Health Ministry’s chief accountant must approve the transfer of vaccine doses, and that approval must be backed by the ministry’s legal adviser.
The process must include a consultation with the Foreign Ministry, over the list of countries to get the doses, and the Finance Ministry over budgetary matters. Then, the cabinet, security cabinet or another forum of relevant ministers must grant final approval, Mandelblit said.
"The handling of the subject must take place with full legal accompaniment, in the internal legal matters and in all connected to agreements with foreign countries, from beginning to end,” Mandelblit wrote. “This is because our subject has clear legal aspects in contracts with foreign countries and contracts between the state and vaccination companies that are under foreign and not Israeli law, as well as matters of damages that could expose the country financially.”
Any further vaccine donations must undergo this process, the attorney-general said.
An official with knowledge of the vaccine aid initiative said: "This is a chance to strengthen Israel's relations with key countries and show a positive side of Israel. It was only a symbolic gesture, though an important one."
The vaccines in question are made by Moderna, while Israeli citizens have only been receiving the Pfizer vaccine, and some of them are near their expiration date, so the thought was to donate them rather than have them go to waste. 
Doing so would be far less costly than many of Israel's other humanitarian endeavors, like sending emergency medical and search-and-rescue teams to disaster zones around the world, the official pointed out. He noted that countries receiving the vaccines picked them up themselves. 
As for the procedural claims, the official said that when Israel sends emergency aid around the world, the decision is generally made by the prime minister, sometimes in consultation with the foreign minister or defense minister, but not the lengthy process as Mandelblit described. In this case, the PMO sent the list of countries to the Foreign Ministry on February 14, and did not get a response. 
Still, the PMO plans to comply with Mandelblit's letter. 
Among the countries on the PMO’s list for donations of 1,000-5,000 doses, which still have not gotten their vaccines, are Mauritania, with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, Chad, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, the Maldives, San Marino, Uganda, Cyprus and Hungary.
“We’re sending vaccines to countries we have friendly relations with,” a senior official said, when asked if the vaccine aid was a sign Israel and Mauritania are on a path to normalization.