Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has cancelled a planned visit to Israel as it emerged he had not been fully vaccinated against COVID because he ‘didn’t want to jump the line’ – in a blow to his ‘friend’ Benjamin Netanyahu as he fights for re-election.
Bourla, 59, and some of his staff have received their first doses but are yet to receive their second, while others in his team have got both doses but have not completed the mandatory seven-day wait afterwards to develop an immune response.
Pfizer announced Thursday the visit had been postponed, after reports emerged that Bourla had not been fully vaccinated. It is unclear if the decision followed pressure from Israeli officials. Dailymail.com has contacted Pfizer for comment.
Pfizer told Channel 12 News, which broke the story: ‘We continue to be interested in visiting Israel and meeting with decision-makers, health officials and professionals that are taking part in the successful vaccine drive in Israel.’
Albert Bourla and some of his staff have received their first doses but are yet to receive their second
Bourla vowed in December that he would not ‘jump the line’ to get the vaccine, despite being the head of the company making the drug in partnership with German company BioNTech.
He was due to arrive in Israel on March 8, just 15 days before the March 23 election, which will sees Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu up against Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
Netanyahu has repeatedly touted his personal rapport with Bourla as a reason why Israel has managed to secure 10million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as part of its world-leading immunization programme.
Bourla’s decision to delay the trip will come as a blow to Netanyahu as he seeks to trumpet the jab programme as a reason to re-elect his Likud party.
The Israeli Health Ministry said Thursday that 4,896,113 citizens had received a first vaccine dose, of whom 3,642,338 have also received a second.
There has earlier been speculation that Bourla had delayed his trip to avoid appearing to influence the election.
Pfizer said the trip could go ahead in late spring, ‘when COVID restrictions are lifted or improve, and allow better visiting conditions,’ the Times of Israel reported.
The trip was set to coincide with the completion of the delivery of 10m vaccine doses and could have also included discussions about Pfizer building a factory in Israel.
Opponents of Netanyahu had branded the proposed visit ‘election propaganda’ and demanded it be called off.
He was due to arrive in Israel on March 8, just 15 days before the March 23 election, which will sees Benjamin Netanyahu (pic) up against Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party
A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on a man at the Clalit Health Services in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem
The controversial politician, who is on trial for corruption and accused by critics of mismanaging the pandemic, has made the vaccine front and centre of his campaign speeches, social media posts and interviews.
But with opinion polls predicting no clear winner in the March 23 ballot and challengers on Netanyahu’s right poised to siphon some of his traditional supporters, it is not clear if his strategy will pay off.
‘We are the only ones who can succeed (in emerging from the pandemic) because I brought millions of vaccine doses,’ Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 TV last week.
‘Thirty world leaders called me. They told me, ‘we tip our hat to the way you ran things, with the health care services,” he said.
More than half the Israeli population have been given a first dose of the Pfizer /BioNTech vaccine, and nearly 40% have received both shots, far more than in any other country in the world.
Meanwhile, the US has administered 82.5m doses since the vaccine rollout began on December 14. More than half of seniors 65 or older have gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, White House officials announced Friday.
Attendees show off their ‘green passes’ (proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 coronavirus disease) as they arrive at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on Friday for a Covid-safe trial event
Netanyahu has said the Israeli economy should be back to full swing by April 5.
But the country’s longest-serving leader is under growing pressure. In addition to his indictment at home on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, all of which he denies, the International Criminal Court has announced an investigation into war crimes in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories during his tenure.
And opponents, saying any Israeli leader would have scrambled to secure vaccines, note that the government had to impose three national lockdowns to try to stem spiking infection rates, and that some 6,000 people died of the virus.
Israeli voters have also been feeling the economic strain: official figures showed unemployment at 18% in January.
Ayala Hasson, a Channel 13 news anchor, said Netanyahu’s focus on vaccinations stemmed partly from watching his ally Donald Trump’s defeat in the U.S. presidential election.
‘Netanyahu looked very carefully at what happened in the United States and he saw that Trump lost his presidency because of the COVID issue,’ Hasson told Reuters. ‘So he thinks it’s going to help him, this matter (of vaccines).’
But she said Netanyahu’s theme resonated mainly among those who already support him, and ‘the majority of voters are already decided.’
The ‘green pass concert’ in Tel Aviv Friday, which the Israeli authorities hope will be a pilot to show how similar events can be carried out in a Covid safe manner
Netanyahu’s vaccination push drew praise among Israelis interviewed on a Tel Aviv street, but some said it wasn’t enough to persuade them to vote for ‘Bibi’, who has been in power continuously since 2009.
‘I think it’s time for a change in Israel and we need someone new, despite the great job he did with the vaccinations,’ said Itay Levy, 21, a software engineer.
Stephen Segal, 32, who owns a coffee business, said there were more important aspects of the coronavirus crisis.
‘Did (Netanyahu) handle the economy well? Did he handle the number of infections? I struggled personally during the pandemic – a lot of other people did – and so this is really what’s going to determine my vote,’ he said.
Many secular Israelis accuse Netanyahu of ignoring lockdown violations within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community – whose political leaders are key partners in his governing coalition – while enforcing restrictions elsewhere.
Israel’s vaccine supplies were ensured, Netanyahu said, through numerous phone calls he made to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and an offer to provide the company with real-world data.
His ‘proven leadership’ would ensure additional vaccine supplies, he says.
But on a popular morning drive-time show on Israel’s Kan public radio this week, the familiar sound bite drew only exasperation.
‘I’m bringing vaccines for all Israeli citizens,’ Netanyahu began.