More than a million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses held in Israel and set to expire at the end of July may be discarded after attempts to broker a swap deal with the UK were unsuccessful.
According to reports, Israel offered the vaccines to Britain in exchange for a similar number of vaccines that the UK is scheduled to receive from Pfizer in September. Health officials are rushing to vaccinate as many of the country’s adult population as possible before Covid restrictions are lifted in England later this month.
On Thursday, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that negotiations between the UK and Israel on a vaccine swap were nearing completion. However, Israeli officials later stated that the deal had been sabotaged due to technical issues.
“There were discussions between Israel and the United Kingdom about the possibility of transmitting vaccines, but unfortunately, despite the will of both parties, this did not succeed for technical reasons,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.
According to reports, the UK has no plans to swap vaccine supplies with other countries.
According to Channel 12, Pfizer turned down an Israeli request to extend the expiration date of the vaccines. The company stated that it could not guarantee the doses would be safe after July 30. Last month, a plan to transfer approximately 1 million Pfizer doses to the occupied West Bank fell through after Palestinian leaders stated that they would not accept vaccines that were nearing their expiration date.
“The government refuses to accept vaccines that are about to expire,” said Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority. He added that the authority would wait for a shipment of vaccines it had ordered directly from Pfizer.
According to Palestinian officials, approximately 30% of eligible Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 65% of adult Israelis who have received two doses. With Delta variant transmission on the rise, particularly among the unvaccinated, the Israeli government is encouraging children aged 12 to 15 to be immunized.
The youth vaccination drive was less successful than the rate at which Israeli adults were immunized. There is also concern that health officials may be unable to provide first shots after July 9 due to a lack of unexpired doses available for a second vaccination three weeks later.
The World Health Organization has advised countries not to discard any expired Covid-19 doses pending further research into whether they can be used for a longer period of time. Adam Finn, a pediatrics professor at the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), expressed optimism that a solution would be found soon.
“We really want to avoid a scenario in which administrative hurdles… prevent vaccines from being used because there are clearly shortages of these vaccines throughout the world, and we can’t be throwing them away when people desperately need to receive them,” he said on an interview. “We remain confident in our vaccine supplies and are on track to meet current vaccination targets,” a UK government spokesperson said. We recognize that a global pandemic necessitates global solutions, and we will continue to share lessons learned and collaborate on the vaccination program on a global scale.”