After Netanyahu Calls Pfizer CEO, Top Israeli Official Says 'We Don't Need' His Help

'I don't know whether it's helping or sabotaging' Israel's efforts to ensure COVID vaccines are available for all, Health Ministry director-general says

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Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a plane with a shipment of Pfizer vaccines, at Ben-Gurion International Airport in January.
Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a plane with a shipment of Pfizer vaccines, at Ben-Gurion International Airport in January.Credit: Moti Milrod

A day after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, the Health Ministry's director-general said on Thursday that Israel doesn't need help from Netanyahu, now opposition leader, in securing the necessary supply of coronavirus vaccines from the U.S. drugmaker.

Netanyahu announced on Wednesday he spoke to Bourla and urged the government to purchase more vaccine doses, which he claims are needed to administer a third shot in a bid to prevent the delta variant from spreading.

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The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health both said there is no evidence at this point supporting claims a third dose is needed. Most of Israel's Health Ministry experts and officials say there isn't any justification at this point to provide the general population with a third vaccine dose. However, Israel has begun administering a third dose to people with weak immune systems.

"I don't know whether it's helping or sabotaging" Israel's coronavirus response, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told Kan Bet public radio, referring to Netanyahu's unofficial talks with Pfizer's Bourla. Ash formerly served as Israel's coronavirus czar, appointed by Netanyahu himself.

"We don't need this assistance… and we have to make decisions in a professional manner," Ash added. "We have direct contact with both Moderna and Pfizer… I think this decision should be left to the experts."

Nachman Ash in Jerusalem, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Asked about Netanyahu's calls to provide a third vaccine dose, Ash said: "It's his opinion and I respect it, but at the end of the day any decision would be made by our experts."

As prime minister, Netanyahu had touted his close relationship with Bourla and invited him for a visit to Israel, which was scheduled for mid-March, just two weeks before Israel's election – the country's fourth in two years – that eventually led to Netanyahu's ouster after 12 years in power. Bourla canceled the planned visit following calls from a group of leading Israeli scientists, doctors and academics, urging the CEO to postpone his visit due to the possible political ramifications. They specifically warned Bourla that Netanyahu might use his visit for his Likud party's election campaign.

Since the new government was sworn in last month, Netanyahu has been attacking Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. In a Knesset speech last week, Netanyahu said Bennett's government wasn't doing enough to import more vaccine doses. "The third vaccine [dose] has to be in our hands by now," the opposition leader said. "This situation may cost us many lives. This vaccine should have been here by now."

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