82% vaccinated in Israel; race on between vaccination and mutation: Netanyahu

New Delhi/Davos, Jan 27 (PTI) Israel has vaccinated 82 per cent of its population and is targeting at least 95 per cent at the earliest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, while cautioning that a race is underway between vaccination and mutation of the coronavirus.

In a special address at the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda Summit, Netanyahu said, “We have to race as fast as we can to vaccinate the at-risk groups in the population, and then everyone else in order to give immunity.”

Thereafter, the vaccine makers can be expected to modify their vaccines to accommodate the mutations that are not covered currently, and then we will have to purchase them, he added.

Israel is in the midst of pursuing one of the fastest vaccination drives in the world against COVID-19.

“We have vaccinated 82 per cent of our people, but it’s not enough. We have to vaccinate at least 95 per cent, which is still a big task, but that is about the residual of those who really oppose vaccines — about 5 per cent.”

Talking about the challenges, Netanyahu said, “We are in an arms race. Except it’s not an arms race, it’s a race between vaccination and mutation.”

He said there is the British mutation, but there will be more and mutations in future.

“That’s going to be our life for the coming years. I don’t think that war (is) going to evade that. But we can overcome it,” he noted.

The Israeli leader further said the reason his country has done well is because it purchased a lot of vaccines fast.

“We didn’t quibble about the price. I personally got involved in it, and I said just basically to the bureaucrats, cut the whatever — I want to be diplomatic — but I actually said cut the nonsense,” he said in a candid speech.

He said he had a telephone conversation with Pfizer’s leadership at 2 am to close the deal.

“Israel could serve as a world laboratory for herd immunity, or something approaching herd immunity very quickly because we have an efficient distribution system,” he added.

Netanyahu said he gave Pfizer the argument that they could benefit from the data that Israel could produce, and they were convinced.

He said he was on phone with the Pfizer CEO 21 times, and also spoke to heads of Moderna and other companies.

“I don’t call them that much — just five times a day,” Netanyahu joked about how often he speaks with Pfizer executives regarding vaccine development and distribution.

“I think you need personal leadership here. It’s like checking on munitions in a war. You really have to make sure you’re getting first of all the stock of the vaccines and then you have to make sure that they’re distributed and they have to be distributed in an optimised way that keeps changing,” he said.

Asked whether he expects COVID-19 mutations to continue emerging in the future, he said, “Yes, I expect we will have to inoculate ourselves at least annually. That’s my guess. I’m not completely sure, and if I have to guess, and I’m stocking Israel’s health, so to speak, with vaccines, with that assumption.”

“I want to sign contracts for future purchases, based on the idea that the vaccines will alternate. For example, they’re now testing for children,” he added.

As we proceed with either new vaccines or modified versions for mutations, and those for teenagers and children, then we have to stock and deliver them, he said.

“I expect this to be exactly like the flu — probably more so than the flu, which requires vaccination every year,” he said.

On the effectiveness of the vaccines against the current and new strains, Netanyahu said, “Right now, the two vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) have overcome the strains that have appeared… I don’t pretend to be an expert on vaccines, but I think from what I can ascertain from talking to the people who are experts in this.”

He added that statistically, it is just a question of time before there is a strain that the current vaccines do not work against and for that reason, he has shut down commercial flights.