Another shipment of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is due to land in Israel on Sunday, as announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. According to the premier, as part of the agreement signed with the U.S. pharmaceutical company, Israel will share statistics about the country’s vaccination drive with Pfizer. But this agreement, and the data it involves, raises questions.
After Netanyahu’s announcement, the Health Ministry released a statement clarifying that “The data is shared with the public on a daily basis and this is the same data to be conveyed to Pfizer.” Later, the head of health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroi-Preiss, said there was no concern regarding a breach of the public’s privacy.
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In an interview with Channel 12 News on Friday, Alroi-Press said that the ministry insisted that the data to be transmitted to Pfizer would be identical to publicly available statistics. However, the ministry did not say whether the data-sharing had been included in the original agreement with Pfizer, and why there was a need to convey this data if it is already in the public domain.
For Pfizer, statistics on vaccination in Israel, which has a very diverse population, could provide crucial data on the impact of the vaccine on groups and subgroups that could not have been studied during the company’s trials. Health maintenance organization sources say that neither Pfizer, nor any other outside entity, has access to their databases.
However, even before the current agreement was signed with Pfizer, information on coronavirus vaccination in Israel was collected and entered into a separate database from which broader information can be obtained on the inoculation drive on a national level, beyond that of the individual HMO.
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In terms of commercial value, Israel is a negligible market in the global pharmaceutical industry. Despite this, dozens of major companies in the field maintain representatives in Israel. Israel is also considered a preferred site for clinical trials of treatments and drugs, including groundbreaking developments, due to the precision, reliability and documentation by entities in the country.
Israel also has one very valuable asset: Every citizen in the country has long-term, digitized medical documentation. Multiply that by millions of citizens with uniform, well-documented data representing a very diverse population, and it’s easy to see how Israel can turn into a “model country” that can provide a crucial statistical model for drug companies. Nevertheless, the question of transparency in the case of Pfizer has yet to be answered.