Pfizer’s CEO canceled Israel trip following accusations that his visit could illegally help ‘cynical’ Netanyahu win the upcoming election

netanyahu israel vaccine covid
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, meet the Israeli citizen who is the 5 millionth person to be vaccinated in Israel, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, March 8, 2021.

  • Pfizer’s CEO delayed a trip to Israel that was scheduled to take place during an election campaign.
  • Israel’s attorney general called the proposed visit “criminal election propaganda,” local media reported.
  • Albert Bourla told a local broadcaster that he had “zero intention” of interfering in an election.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla canceled a scheduled trip to Israel following accusations by a watchdog group and the country’s top lawyer that his visit could illegally sway the upcoming election to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bourla was expected to arrive in Tel Aviv on March 8, less than three weeks away from the March 23 election.

Parliamentary watchdog group Achrayut Leumit wrote to Bourla, Netanyahu, and the state comptroller arguing that a visit would violate election propaganda laws, The Jerusalem Post said.

“Mr. Bourla’s participation in photo-op events with the prime minister may constitute aiding and abetting a prohibited election campaign and is a criminal offense,” the group said in a letter seen by the newspaper.

Achrayut Leumit’s CEO, Oshi Elmaliach, threatened to open a case with the Central Elections Committee and the Israeli police if the trip were to go ahead, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Elmaliach also wrote to Israel’s attorney general, citing concerns that a visit could benefit Netanyahu, The Times of Israel reported.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt responded by echoing these concerns and urging Netanyahu and Israel’s health minister to reconsider the trip, according to Channel 12.

Mandelbilt argued that the planned visit was “prohibited and criminal election propaganda, due to the prohibited use of the intangible asset of a supervised body (Ministry of Health),” Channel 12 reported.

It was initially reported that the trip was delayed because Bourla and his delegation members weren’t fully vaccinated.

However, in an interview with Channel 12 news, Bourla confirmed that he had received letters telling him to cancel the trip. “My job is not to do politics,” he told the broadcaster.

The trip has now been rearranged for late spring, Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported.

Pfizer did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The trip’s timing struck some Israelis as a clear sign that Netanyahu is willing to do anything to win the election.

“I’ve been told that Bourla’s cancelation was directly because of the letters he received,” Amos Harel, a political analyst at Israeli newspaper Haaretz, told Insider. “Netanyahu was quite cynically putting Bourla in the Israeli political campaign to celebrate the success of his vaccination campaign.”

“There was a red line that shouldn’t be crossed in the midst of a political campaign,” Harel added. “It’s very clear to everyone that the Pfizer visit was about the election.”

Ronny Linder, a health correspondent at Haaretz, said: “Netanyahu treating the vaccine like his own personal achievement isn’t right,” she said.

“If Bourla had come here,” she added, “I suspect that many people would have seen this as a political circus, a one-man show, an act of election propaganda that Bourla would have unwittingly participated in.”

Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been world-leading.

The success can, in part, be attributed to Netanyahu’s efforts to procure vaccines so early on. Bourla said that Netanyahu was “obsessive” and called him “30 times” to secure a deal, The Times of Israel reported.

Experts, however, primarily attribute the success of the rollout to big data, Israel’s centralized and socialized healthcare system, and impactful public information campaigns touting the vaccine’s safety.

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Pfizer’s CEO will wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and says company executives won’t ‘cut the line’

Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla.

  • Pfizer executives, including its CEO Albert Bourla, won’t “cut the line” to get a COVID-19 vaccine, Bourla told CNBC Monday.
  • “I’m 59 years old, in good health, I’m not working on the frontline, so my type it is not recommended to get vaccination now,” he told CNBC.
  • But Bourla noted that polls conducted by Pfizer suggest that people would be more willing to take the vaccine if he, as the company’s CEO, got the shot.
  • “I’m trying to find a way that I will get vaccinated, despite if it is not my time, just to demonstrate the confidence of the company,” he said.
  • A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory group has recommended that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be first in line for the vaccines.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla hasn’t taken the COVID-19 vaccine his company developed alongside BioNTech yet – and he told CNBC Monday that Pfizer executives will wait until it’s their turn to get a shot.

“As soon as I can, I will,” he said. But he added that he doesn’t want executives to “cut the line” and set a bad example.

“I’m 59 years old, in good health, I’m not working on the frontline, so my type it is not recommended to get vaccination now,” he explained.

However, Bourla said he would consider getting the vaccine earlier than recommended for someone of his age and health “just to demonstrate the confidence of the company.” This could encourage others to take the shot, he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine for emergency use on December 12. On Monday, Sandra Lindsay, a nurse in New York City, became the first person in America to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pfizer runs “a lot of polls” to see what would make people more willing to take the vaccine, Bourla said – and one of the top responses is if he, as CEO, takes it. This ranks even higher than President-elect Joe Biden taking the vaccine, Bourla said.

“With that in mind, I’m trying to find a way that I will get vaccinated, despite if it is not my time, just to demonstrate the confidence of the company,” he said.

“But we have made a decision that if we have to do that we would not do it with our executives, so none of the executives or board members will cut the line.”

They will take it at the appropriate time based on their age and occupation, he added.

Read more: Pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals are gearing up to give coronavirus vaccines to millions of Americans. Here’s how they’re preparing and how much they stand to profit along the way.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory group has recommended that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be first in line for shots – but it’s up to each state to decide how to prioritize their most vulnerable populations. 

Top US officials could also be given early access to the vaccine, Bloomberg reported, but President Donald Trump said he’d wait to receive it.

“People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” he said in a tweet. “I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.”

Former US presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all said they are willing to take their COVID-19 shots on camera to show the vaccine is safe, and President Donald Trump doing the same is “certainly under consideration,” White House officials said.

Biden has also said he will take the vaccine when available.

Read more: How the pharma giant Pfizer teamed up with a little-known biotech to develop the first authorized coronavirus vaccine in record time

In the interview with CNBC, Bourla discussed the distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine across the US. The shots have to be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly colder than most other vaccines.

“I am very confident that things will go very smoothly,” Bourla said, explaining that the company had been preparing to distribute the shots for months.

He also added that, despite Pfizer saying it will produce 1.3 billion doses of its vaccine next year, this is just a “commitment to the world.” The company actually hopes to make “much more,” he said.

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