New COVID strain detected in Israel; Pfizer vaccine offer delayed



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By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A new strain of coronavirus has been identified in Israel, the health ministry said on Tuesday, and the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, used primarily in a nationwide rapid inoculation campaign, appears to be effective against her.

Separately, an offer by the Israeli government to obtain an additional 36 million doses of Pfizer / BioNTech for use as a booster injection or for children once they are eligible encountered a problem this week due to political internal struggles. .

The cabinet was set for Monday to approve the purchase, at around 3.5 billion shekels ($ 1.05 billion), but it was quashed in a feud between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister. , Benny Gantz, who heads a rival party, on judicial appointments.

The health ministry, which spent 2.6 billion shekels on vaccines without disclosing the exact number of doses of Pfizer and Moderna purchased, said it had enough supplies “for the current round of vaccinations.”

But he said it’s important to acquire more doses to fend off variants and immunize children when possible.

The ministry said separately that it had found no evidence that the new variant caused widespread infection or severe morbidity, and said it appeared rare and could go away altogether.

More than half of Israel’s 9 million people have received two doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. Infection rates are steadily declining and the Israeli economy has largely reopened.

Health officials said they expected everyone eligible for the vaccine to be vaccinated by the end of May. About a third of Israelis are under 16, making them ineligible until the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine is deemed safe for children.

Israel is in yet another political stalemate after an election last week, the fourth in two years, which ended without a clear winner. Discussions on creating a governing coalition could last for weeks.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer declined to comment on the potential sale of the vaccines.

Netanyahu said this month that Israel is looking to purchase an additional 36 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

(1 USD = 3.3317 shekels)

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Steven Scheer; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Bernadette Baum)

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