Israel signed a deal on Tuesday to transfer 700,000 soon-to-expire Pfizer COVID vaccines to South Korea who, in return, will supply the same quantity of vaccine doses to Israel from their own Pfizer order in the fall.
The vaccine doses being shipped to South Korea are just one portion of Israel’s 1 million unused doses, due to expire by the end of this month. The vaccines, purchased from Pfizer last year, are worth millions of dollars.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been negotiating the deal with the South Korean government over the last few days, along with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and is the first of its kind. Bennett referred to the exchange as a “win-win” deal for both nations.
“We continue to protect the lives of Israeli citizens,” Bennett said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The vaccines are efficient and life-saving — that’s a fact. We agreed to an exchange that is a win-win situation. South Korea will receive vaccines from our existing stock, and we will be repaid from their future orders,” Bennett explained. “This will reduce the gaps and ensure that the State of Israel has a proper stock of vaccines.”
The Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said they have been vaccinating their citizens quickly with the doses currently available but have struggled to purchase additional doses in a timely manner amid tight global supplies, particularly in Asia. South Korea has been struggling with smaller, persistent outbreaks of the coronavirus.
KDCA Director Jeong Eun-Kyeong said last week he is hoping to accelerate the nation’s vaccination campaign by achieving herd immunity earlier than the original November goal. The current plan calls for inoculating at least 70% of the population before then with at least one vaccine jab, primarily Pfizer’s mRNA dose.
According to the World Health Organization, KDCA has registered 746 more COVID-19 cases since midnight Monday, raising the country’s total to 161,541 cases, including 2,032 total deaths.
The South Korea-Israel vaccine exchange deal comes less than a month after the Palestinian Authority withdrew from a similar agreement that Bennett had proposed after just one week on the job as Israel’s PM. The deal, which some deemed as a humanitarian move, was intended to help the PA, who did not have enough doses to vaccinate their own people.
Ultimately, however, the PA claimed the vaccines were “subpar” and called the deal off, contending that the vaccine did not meet their standards because they were too close to their expiry date.
However, health officials have stated it is standard practice to use vaccines whose expiration date is drawing near, and that manufacturers deem them perfectly safe, provided the date has not passed.
In fact, Israel has been using those same doses to inoculate its own teens, aged 12 to 15, as of last month and has ensured that even with the shipment of 700,000 doses to South Korea, there will be enough doses to continue vaccination of the Israel’s younger age group.
Over the last few months, beginning with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has been negotiating a vaccine swap with several countries, including the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, hoping to sign a deal to offload its surplus of expiring vaccines.
Korea’s shipment of reimbursement vaccines is due to arrive in Israel during the fourth quarter of 2021.