Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday an agreement to purchase 4 million vaccines from Pfizer as early as January, an agreement that will cost well over $200 million and remains subject to the vaccine receiving approval in the United States.
“This is a great day for the State of Israel, it’s a great day on our road to victory over the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said in a news conference on Friday afternoon.
The announcement was supposed to provide "light at the end of the tunnel" for Israeli who have been living under severe restrictions under two national lockdowns since the spring.
But it comes as business owners in Israel are stepping up pressure on the government protesting measures that have kept them closed — many since March. Unemployment has reached 22.7 percent, according to the latest reports.
Israel's agreement with Pfizer is for an initial purchase of 8 million vaccines, enough for 4 million Israeli citizens since the shot requires two doses per person.
More agreements with other companies are in negotiations, Netanyahu added.
“The goal is to enable a vaccine for every person in Israel without exception. I personally am working with world leaders to ensure that we receive the vaccine together with the leading countries in the world and that we are not pushed to the back of the line,” he said.
According to a report, Israel will pay $35 million in advance and another $202 million when the first vaccines arrive. Pfizer will then provide hundreds of thousands of vaccines every month for the duration of 2021. All of this is subject to Pfizer being able to supply the vaccines.
Netanyahu also stressed that until the vaccine arrives, Israelis should not get complacent in following current guidelines and rules including mask wearing and social distancing.
“We are going to be one of the first countries to come out of this successfully,” he said. “We are in this together and we will come out of this together.”
Israel is still in the midst of a lockdown which began on Sept. 18. In mid-October, the country began lifting aspects of the lockdown, allowing children up to grade four to return to school, loosening some restrictions on public gatherings and recently opening street-front shops. Restaurants, gyms and malls remain closed. High school students haven't learned in a physical classroom since March.
The lockdown served to reduce the spread of the virus. The number of infections has dropped and the positivity rate has fallen to 2 percent and below. According to Ministry of Health statistics, some 300 patients are in serious condition and 133 on ventilators as of Friday. More than 2,700 Israelis have died of COVID.
Israel is down to just over 8,000 actives cases with the majority of those people having few to zero symptoms.