Calling Israel a “banana republic”, Pfizer has frozen further deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine until it gets paid for the last 2.5 million doses, Israeli media has reported.
Some 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected in Israel on Sunday, after Passover ended, but were delayed by Pfizer until further notice on the grounds that the previous shipment hadn’t been paid for, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Pfizer executives reportedly said they couldn’t understand how something like this could happen in an organised country, a correspondent for Galatz, the Israeli army radio, said on Monday.
Pfizer’s only official comment was that its original contract with Israel for an unspecified number of doses, signed in November 2020, had expired and that they were working to “update the agreement”.
“While this work continues, shipments may be adjusted,” Pfizer added in a statement.
Israel has reportedly bought 15 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, as well as 12 million Moderna and AstraZeneca jabs.
The country has spent US$788 million, with another US$758 million reserved for further purchases, a health ministry representative told legislators last month.
The figures showed that Israel had paid a price per dose “much higher” than previously believed and costlier than US and EU deals.
The Israeli health ministry sought approval to get 30 million more doses, but the meeting they requested for Monday was cancelled due to a conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner and chief rival Benny Gantz, Israeli media reported.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Gantz called the meeting off because Netanyahu refused to confirm him as justice minister, leaving him in acting capacity after his term expired on April 1.
However, Gantz’s office said that the purchase of the 2.5 million Pfizer vaccines had already been approved and that the payment delay was the fault of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Netanyahu has been in an uneasy coalition government with Gantz since May 2020, after the third election in the span of a year failed to produce a viable majority coalition.
Gantz’s interest in the justice ministry might be related to the fact that Netanyahu is currently facing a series of corruption charges, say local media sources.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was supposed to visit Israel in early March to negotiate further deliveries and possibly even arrange production of the vaccine there.
He cancelled the trip five days before its scheduled date, however, saying he and his team weren’t fully vaccinated and would gladly come later after “coronavirus restrictions are lifted or improve”.