African countries

Israel to donate 1 million doses of vaccine to African countries via COVAX

The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that the country will donate one million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to African countries through the international COVAX mechanism. Israel signed on about a year ago as a supporter of the COVAX partnership, but until now has not been actively involved in donating vaccine doses through this specific mechanism.

In its announcement, the Foreign Ministry noted that in recent months Israel has strengthened its relations with African countries, including Israel’s return last July to observer status with the African Union. (AU). The important vaccine donation, which will reach nearly a quarter of countries on the continent, will help strengthen ties between Israel and those countries, according to the announcement.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “In the coming weeks, Israel will send 1 million AstraZeneca vaccines to African countries through COVAX, the international mechanism for equitable distribution of vaccines. I’m happy that Israel can contribute and be a partner in eradicating this pandemic from around the world.”

The COVAX global vaccine distribution mechanism, centered in Geneva, works for the supply and equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines, serving as a humanitarian stamp. It aims to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, with a focus on developing countries and vulnerable populations. Its main implementing partners are the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and the World Health Organization, with some 90 countries supporting the initiative.

Participating countries donate vaccine doses to a bank-like mechanism, which then distributes the doses to countries and populations in need. Israel, for example, will donate one million doses it had already purchased from AstraZeneca. Instead of the doses being shipped to Israel, the vaccines already paid for will reach African countries.

The Foreign Ministry announcement did not specify which countries will receive the doses, although Israel has apparently compiled a specific list of African countries with the structural capacity to distribute and administer the vaccines.

As a reminder, while he was Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu announced last February that he was intend to give certain doses of vaccination against COVID-19 to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and various countries. Shortly after the announcement, after some of the vaccines had already been shipped, and after the list of destination countries was published by the media, he had to put a stop to his initiative. Netanyahu has been criticized, saying the host countries were mostly diplomatic or political allies of the government and that the list was drawn up without proper consultations with relevant ministries. Thus, the decision had to be reviewed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit before it could be executed.

The current December 15 decision would have been taken jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office, and in consultation with the National Security Council and the Office of the Attorney General, ensuring a clear and legal for donation. Haaretz reported that Israel’s Agreement with COVAX allows him to determine where the vaccines end up.

That being said, most COVAX donor countries do not assign doses to specific countries. France signed an agreement last August with the AU and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust to supply 10 million doses via COVAX to AU Member States. A few other countries outside of Israel had also targeted specific states for donations. The COVAX website offers a interactive map showing where each country’s vaccine donations end up, but does not specify whether this is in response to a specific request from the donor country or if it is decided by COVAX partnership experts.

Asked about the matter by Al-Monitor, COVAX did not directly refer to the Israeli decision. He noted, however, that while countries can earmark their donation, the COVAX partnership asks them in its general statement not to.

The joint statement on donations of COVID-19 vaccine doses to African countries states that “the doses should be unaffected for greater efficiency and to support long-term planning. Earmarking makes it much more difficult to allocate supply on the basis of equity and to take into account the absorptive capacity of specific countries.”

Israel was one of the first countries to start vaccinating its population. After signing supply agreements with several vaccine suppliers, she ended up using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine almost exclusively. Reports indicated that Israel had tried unsuccessfully to cancel some of the purchase agreements. It was only last October that Israel made AstraZeneca vaccines available to people who are medically unable to take vaccines based on mRNA technology.

Last March, Israel launched a campaign to vaccinate some 120,000 Palestinian laborers working in its territory and in settlements in the West Bank. In June, it was published that Israel planned to transfer around 1 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians, but the initiative fell through when the PA rejected the offer. In recent months, the PA has received vaccine donations from Russia and has also received vaccines through the COVAX mechanism.

Beyond vaccine doses, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has provided many countries with the medical equipment needed to deal with the spread of the virus. On December 14, for example, the Israeli ambassador to Bulgaria Yoram Elron oversaw the transfer of nearly 2 tonnes of donated medical equipment to one of Sofia’s main hospitals. The donation, sent by the international cooperation department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs MASHAV, included among other things life-saving oxygen concentrators. Last May, Israel sent India a large shipment of medical equipment to fight the growing pandemic, including oxygen generators and ventilators.