The world has been watching in awe and wonder at the vaccination drive that Israel launched three weeks ago. By now almost a million and a half Israelis have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and today the drive to administer the second dose will start.
And without any hesitation, and also to nobody’s surprise, Prime Minister Netanyahu has claimed the credit for this indeed fabulous success. In (pseudo) dramatic appearances on prime time television, Netanyahu has described how he, and only he, appealed to the Pfizer CEO to find his Jewish roots and give “his” people priority in receiving the vaccine.
But let’s look at this a little more in detail. Pfizer has known all along that the vaccine would be approved rapidly by the FDA, what in essence would be the green light for other countries, including Israel, to approve the vaccine and get ready to inoculate the population. Thus, Pfizer no doubt has been working overtime to produce the vaccine even before it was approved and tens of millions of doses were ready to be shipped at short notice, even when taking into account the logistical challenges, including the need to keep the vaccine at minus seventy degrees C. And, while both the U.S. and Europe have ordered very large numbers of the vaccine, neither was (or currently is) organized to handle these very large quantities of vaccine and both will need to get their logistics organized before they will be able to start widespread vaccination drives. On the other hand, the number of vaccines that Israel needs for a total population of 9.3 million people (compared to 325 million in the U.S. and 745 million in Europe) is almost negligible. Thus, the supplies Israel would require, at least initially, were on hand already any way and Pfizer could ship these without compromising its arrangements with the U.S. and Europe. And from there it came down to only one thing, money. While Europe and the U.S. are paying around fifteen dollars per dose (so thirty dollars to vaccinate one person), Israel is reportedly paying twice that and some sources say even more than twice! It may be argued that paying more to receive the vaccines early is a smart move. It will allow an early opening of the economy and the road to recuperation will be faster. Netanyahu did nothing more than acting upon the only thing that American companies understand (money) and Pfizer gladly took the opportunity to make some extra money without compromising other commitments.
Of course receiving the vaccines is an important first step but distributing them and inoculating the population is another. Both in Europe and in the U.S the vaccination drive has been wrought by confusion, lack of organization and inefficiency. In Israel it took off at incredible speed and against all expectations, the majority of the population also wants the shot and lined up to receive it. And the Health Minister and Netanyahu again were quick to demand the credit for this speedy organization even though the only thing they did was delegate it. In ten months of Corona crisis, during which practically every possible mistake was made by the Israeli government led by Netanyahu, often driven by political and personal gain of Netanyahu himself, they finally did one thing right: they ordered the Public Health Maintenance organizations to be responsible for the vaccination drive. The Israeli HMO’s, which originally were established (at least the first one) even before the foundation of the state, have been the main pillar of healthcare in Israel and all Israelis are a member of one of the four HMO’s operating today, with many clinics as well as hospitals spread throughout the country staffed by competent professionals.
The HMO’s organized the vaccination drive at whirlwind speed and vaccination centers were set up throughout Israel and online reservation could be made to get vaccinated. The government set up a (often questioned) priority scheme and the HMO’s contacted their eligible members when they did not by themselves came forward to get the shot, while elderly care centers were visited by medical staff to inoculate the often fragile and immobile elderly.
The credit for the success of the vaccination project, must be given to the HMO’s, to their management and logistics people and in particular to their medical staff, who have mobilized and have been vaccinating Israelis at incredible speed.
The vaccination drive is so successful that apparently nobody expected that so many people would receive their shot so fast, and at this point, the shipments that have been received from Pfizer are running out. (Moderna has started shipping to Israel as well but small quantities only until now). The HMO’s stated that they would shortly hold their vaccination drive to assure that those who received the first shot would be able to get the second injection after the three weeks prescribed by Pfizer.
But on Thursday night, of course at prime time, Netanyahu appeared on television and announced that he had spoken numerous times to his buddy, the CEO of Pfizer and he has agreed to ship to Israel immediately, additional vaccines, in sufficient quantities to inoculate the whole population by the middle of March! Our Savior and Supreme Leader has done it again! He is again saving our people and our country and again we are the first and the best in the World, a real “light onto the Nations”!
Later on it became clear that in return for the early shipment (again small quantities compared to Pfizer’s other customers who are still struggling to get organized), Netanyahu agreed that Pfizer would receive detailed medical information about all the aspects of the vaccination drive. About side effects, about different age groups, about other ailments and the way such patients reacted to the vaccine and possibly additional medical information about the vaccine recipients. And nothing has been said about the price Israel will be paying for these additional shipments. Again, the price Israel will be paying, including the divulging of medical information (which has been questioned by many as problematic), may be worth it, but for Pfizer this was not much more than a business deal.
And, it did surely not escape many that the timeline talks about the middle of March to complete the vaccination drive. Netanyahu already took the opportunity to encourage all of us to celebrate the Passover holyday (which is at the end of March) with family and friends without fear of the dreadful disease. While this sounds like the call he made to Israelis to go have a beer and have fun after the first lockdown ended, Netanyahu mainly focused the attention of Israelis on Passover, to make them forget another small event that will take place the week before Passover: National Elections.
Netanyahu will be able to present himself as the savior of the Nation and urge all the poor citizens he just saved to vote for him on March 23rd. There is little doubt that in addition to the price Israel paid to Pfizer, a clause in the agreement will mention delivery dates that will allow Israel to complete inoculation by the middle of March so the King of Israel can demand his reward.
Is there anything Netanyahu does without only himself in mind?
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