The Palestinian Authority rejected 90,000 vaccine doses from Israel because they were almost expired

Sputnik V Palestine
A Palestinian health worker displays a vial of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Khan Yunis, south of the Gaza Strip, on February 24.

The Palestinian Authority canceled a deal to swap coronavirus vaccine doses with Israel on Friday, citing concerns about the quality of the shots.

Earlier in the day, Israel announced that it would transfer up to 1.4 million nearly-expired doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to the Palestinian territories.

In exchange, the PA would provide Israel with the same number of doses in September or October, after it received a fresh shipment, according to a joint statement from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office and the nation’s defence and health ministries. (Bennett assumed office on Sunday, replacing longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)

But almost as soon as the first 90,000 doses arrived from Israel, the PA said it would send them back.

“After the technical teams in the ministry of health examined the first batch of the Pfizer vaccines that were received this evening from Israel, it became clear that the 90,000 doses received do not conform to the specifications contained in the agreement,” Ibrahim Melhem, a PA spokesperson, said at a Friday press conference.

PA Health Minister Mai Alkaila said the doses were supposed to expire in July or August, but the expiration date turned out to be in June, according to Reuters.

“That’s not enough time to use them, so we rejected them,” Alkaila said.

Bennett’s office did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

palestine east jerusalem vaccine
A healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a Palestinian man at the Clalit Health Services in the Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on January 7, 2021.

For the past several months, Israelis and Palestinians have witnessed starkly different vaccine rollouts.

Israel has vaccinated a greater share of its population than just about any country so far: around 63% of Israelis have received at least one dose. Many scientists believe that Israel has now reached herd immunity, the threshold beyond which the virus can’t easily pass from person to person.

The nation rolled back the last of its coronavirus restrictions in early June: Businesses can now operate at full capacity, and residents no longer have to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated to enter restaurants, sporting events, or entertainment venues.

Meanwhile, less than 9% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – around 30% of those eligible to get vaccinated – has received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials. Many of these doses hail from other countries – including Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates – as well as COVAX, a global alliance spearheaded by the World Health Organization to vaccinate the world’s poorest nations.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have access to Israeli health insurance, so they’re eligible to be vaccinated by Israel, but those vaccinations don’t extend to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a result, several human-rights organizations have called on Israel to give Palestinians vaccines right away.

“In the Palestinian communities, if they’re not vaccinating as much and then there’s a new strain that comes up that can evade the vaccine protection, then that’s going to be a big issue,” Jorge Alfaro-Murillo, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, previously told Insider.

Israel has said that the PA is responsible for its own vaccination campaign. But the nation’s new health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, tweeted Friday that the “important exchange of vaccines” would benefit both sides. That same day, the non-profit organization Physicians for Human Rights Israel called the deal “too little too late.”

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Israel moving towards ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza now that several military objectives have been met, reports say

Israeli tank fires a howitzer
Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave on May 16, 2021

  • Ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt could start today, senior Israeli officials told the local news outlet, Walla.
  • Israel says several military goals have been achieved.
  • International pressure and the worsening humanitarian situation have contributed to this development, Walla reported.
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Israel will start moving towards a ceasefire now that several military objectives have been achieved against Hamas, according to a report by Israeli media outlet Walla.

Ceasefire talks could begin as soon as today (Sunday) and mediated by Egypt, Walla reported.

Military officials believe that the airstrikes on Gaza have been successful in reaching specific military goals, the unnamed Israeli sources told the media outlet. The Israeli government is reluctant to progress towards a ground invasion, the officials added.

Israel’s willingness to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza is partly driven by increasing international pressure, encouraged by President Joe Biden, and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, Walla reported.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, will conduct a situation assessment with defense minister Benny Gantz, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, and top security officials later today, the media outlet said.

The IDF has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip since Monday, including on a media building housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices.

The Israeli military has said that it is targeting terrorist targets. Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, was killed in an airstrike in the town of Khan Yonis, CBS News reported.

But the airstrikes have resulted in civilian casualties. The deadliest single attack yet took place on Sunday when airstrikes flattened three buildings and killed at least 26 people, CBS News said.

Palestinian officials say at least 181 people have been killed since the conflict began on Monday, including 83 women and children, The Financial Times reported.

Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children, as a result of a barrage of rockets on the country.

International pressure has steadily increased on Israel to put an end to the violence, with “Free Palestine” protests taking place across the world.

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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.
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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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Israel is freezing flights in and out of the country to slow the spread of COVID-19 strains

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, June 14, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting

  • Israel will ban inbound and outbound flights by foreign airlines to slow the spread of COVID-19 strains.
  • Haaretz reported the freeze will take effect early Tuesday morning and last until January 31. 
  • Emergency medical flights, firefighting planes, and legal travel will be permitted, according to the report.
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Israel will ban foreign airlines from flying in and out of the country until January 31 to curtail the spread of new COVID-19 strains.

The country’s cabinet on Sunday approved plans to freeze flights starting at midnight between Monday and Tuesday, Haaretz reported Sunday. Flights leaving the country will only be approved in rare instances. Firefighting planes, emergency medical flights, and cargo aircraft won’t be affected by the policy. Domestic airlines will also face some new restrictions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the new travel policy, saying in a government meeting “no nation has done what we are about to do,” according to Haaretz.

“We are hermetically sealing the country,” he added.

Read more: More than 200 coronavirus vaccines are still in development as the initial vaccine rollout ramps up. Here’s how experts anticipate 2021 playing out.

While several countries have reinstated travel restrictions to slow the virus’s spread, Israel’s latest motion is among the strictest actions yet. Many countries are now requiring passengers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before flying internationally.

Flights leaving Israel for legal or medical reasons will be permitted, as will those for family funerals or relocations. Travel for personal or humanitarian needs will require approval by the government’s directors-general of health and transportation, Haaretz reported.

The flight halt also marks the first time that Jewish people won’t be able to immigrate to Israel unless it’s “a matter of life or death,” transportation minister Miri Regev reportedly said in the meeting.

The harsher travel restrictions come as new variants of COVID-19 rapidly spread around the world. A new, more contagious strain that originated in the United Kingdom has already affected several in Israel and could fuel a new wave of cases. The country’s Health Ministry said Saturday that six out of seven hospitalized pregnant women were found to have been infected with the UK strain.

Separately, one of Israel’s biggest health insurers recently warned of the variant’s spread. Leumit Health Maintenance Office CEO Haim Fernandes said last week that up to half of its tested members had caught the UK strain, Haaretz reported.

Israel reported 4,933 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Since the pandemic’s onset last year, the country has seen more than 4,300 virus-related deaths.

Read more: From abortion care to LGBTQ rights, here’s how Joe Biden is prepared to tear up Donald Trump’s restrictive gender policies

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