On Wednesday, the Israeli government announced that it was going to donate 1 million COVID-19 vaccines to the COVAX program of the United Nations that distributes these shots to poorer countries. According to the Foreign Ministry, they would give the AstraZeneca vaccines in the coming weeks to a number of countries in Africa. This decision was taken as part of Israel’s move to strengthen its ties with the continent. Yair Lapid, the Israeli Prime Minister said that he was delighted that Israel could make a contribution and be a part of eradicating the global pandemic. According to the announcement, the donated vaccines would reach about a quarter of countries in Africa, but no list was provided.
There are a number of African countries with which Israel has strong ties, including Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. Last year, Israel had also agreed to normalize relations with Sudan and re-established ties with Morocco last year, as part of a series of accords that were brokered by the United States. The agreement between COVAX and Israel allows it to determine where the vaccines will be distributed. In the past, Israel has given its surplus vaccines to friendly countries for gaining diplomatically. However, the process had come to a halt in February, as legal officials had to determine if the transfers could be ordered by the then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
There were some doses that had already been delivering to a few countries. A global initiative, the UN COVAX program is aimed at delivering coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries that cannot acquire them in sufficient quantities. Most of the vaccine supplies in the world have been purchased by wealthier countries and this has resulted in a massive inequality when it comes to access to the shots. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), this vaccine inequality has allowed the coronavirus to mutate and this is a continuous threat to the rich and the poor alike.
Therefore, it has called on countries to donate vaccines instead of administering vaccines to younger people, who are less at risk, or distributing boosters. Israel had reportedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars early on in the pandemic to a number of companies for getting access to vaccines that were still in development at that time. These include Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The country has used the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the most part and even tried to cancel its agreement with AstraZeneca in April of this year, albeit unsuccessfully.
This was due to concerns regarding the distribution pace that turned out to be slower than expected, along with the efficacy of the shot. Nachman Ash, the top coronavirus official at that time, said that Israel was likely to direct the jabs elsewhere. However, the country had made the AstraZeneca shots available to people in October for those who couldn’t take vaccines based on mRNA technology. Being one of the first countries to vaccinate its citizens, Israel had received criticism this year for not sharing its supplies with the Palestinians. Since then, it has vaccinated thousands of Palestinians working in Israel and its settlements.