More than a million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses held in Israel that are due to expire at the end of July may be thrown away after attempts to broker a swap deal with the UK failed.
Israel had reportedly offered the jabs to Britain in return for a similar number of vaccines that the UK is due to receive from Pfizer in September. Health authorities are racing to vaccinate as many of its adult population as possible before Covid restrictions are lifted in England later this month.
On Thursday, Israel’s Channel 12 said that talks on a vaccine swap between the UK and Israel were at an advanced stage. But Israeli officials later said technical problems had scuppered the deal.
“There were discussions between Israel and the United Kingdom regarding the possibility of transmitting vaccines, but unfortunately, despite the will of both parties, for technical reasons, this did not succeed,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson.
It is understood that the UK has no plans to swap vaccine supplies with other countries.
Channel 12 reported that Pfizer had rejected a request from Israel to extend the vaccines’ expiry date. The company said it could not guarantee the doses would be safe beyond 30 July.
A plan to transfer about 1m Pfizer doses to the occupied West Bank also fell through last month after Palestinian leaders said they could not accept vaccines close to their expiry date.
“The government refuses to receive vaccines that are about to expire,” said the Palestinian Authority spokesperson, Ibrahim Melhem. The authority would wait for a consignment of vaccines it had ordered directly from Pfizer, he added.
About 30% of eligible Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials, compared with 65% of adult Israelis who have received two doses. With transmission of the Delta variant rising particularly among the unvaccinated population, the Israeli government is encouraging children aged 12 to 15 to be jabbed.
The youth drive has been less successful than the rate at which Israeli adults were vaccinated. There is additional concern that health authorities may be unable to offer first shots after 9 July as there will be insufficient unexpired doses available for a second vaccination three weeks later.
The World Health Organization has advised countries not to throw away any expired Covid-19 doses pending further research into whether they could be viable for longer.
Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he hoped a solution would be found soon.
“We really want to avoid a scenario where administrative hurdles … prevent vaccines from being used because there are clearly shortages throughout the world of these vaccines, and we can’t be throwing them away when people desperately need to receive them,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We remain confident in our vaccine supplies and are on target to meet current vaccination targets. We recognise that a global pandemic requires global solutions and we will continue to share learnings and collaborate internationally on the vaccination programme.”