Israel Signs COVID-19 Vaccine Exchange Deal With South Korea

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A medical worker prepares to administer a coronavirus vaccine in Bnei Brak, last month.
A medical worker prepares to administer a coronavirus vaccine in Bnei Brak, last month.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel signed a deal on Monday night to provide about 700,000 expiring doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine to South Korea at the end of the month. The first shipment of the vaccines set out to Seoul on Tuesday afternoon. 

As part of the deal, Israel will receive in September and October an identical number of Pfizer vaccine doses ordered by Seoul, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. The deal was made with Pfizer's approval, sources told Haaretz.  

Announcing the deal, Bennett described it as "win-win" and said it would ensure that Israel has an appropriate stockpile of the vaccine. 

The deal follows the Palestinian Authority's announcement last month that it was canceling a similar deal with Israel that would have entailed the delivery of about a million expiring vaccine doses, saying that the doses were too close to expiring and did not meet the PA's standards. Haaretz has learned that the 90-100,000 doses that were delivered to the PA were ultimately destroyed. 

The deal with South Korea involves a smaller number of doses because Israel wants to ensure that it has enough doses for those aged 12-15 who receive the first dose of the vaccine by July 9. A second dose is set aside for all Israelis who receive their first dose by that date.

People wearing face masks walk in Seoul, South Korea, last week.Credit: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

In recent months, Israel has held talks with several countries, including the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, in an attempt to create a deal to offload its large surplus of expiring vaccines.  

The Health Ministry said Monday that the effectiveness of the vaccine in halting the spread of infection had dropped to 64 percent amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant of the virus. The data was presented on Sunday by members of the Health Ministry's epidemiology team.

However, experts have expressed doubt regarding the analysis of infection rates in Israel in recent weeks and the ministry's epidemiology team has also questioned it. "There are enormous methodological challenges in properly assessing the efficacy of the vaccine from local outbreaks," one health expert told Haaretz.

Prof. Ran Balicer, the chief of the professional coronavirus cabinet which advises the Israel's coronavirus cabinet, added that it is very difficult to gauge vaccine efficacy when COVID tests are performed selectively. "This is fundamentally different from the evaluation that came from the U.K.," another expert stated. 

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