Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday said Israel was looking into purchasing Pfizer’s new antiviral pill against COVID-19, which the US drugmaker has touted as highly efficient in preventing hospitalization and death, as 90 other nations were already in active talks with the pharma firm.
“There may be good news in the form of a medication for treating coronavirus,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
The premier said he asked health officials over the weekend “to examine the matter in depth” of acquiring the pill for Israel.
“If the drug is approved for use it will be another significant tool in managing the pandemic, together with vaccines for everyone and accessible tests for everyone, all the time,” he said.
Bennett’s comments came after Hebrew media reported that Israel had yet to begin talks with Pfizer to buy the new antiviral. Pfizer said it was already holding active discussions with 90 countries about the medication.
Health Ministry officials reportedly said they would soon establish contact with Pfizer to begin talks on purchasing the pill.
Israel’s “successful” coronavirus vaccination campaign was largely the result of clinching the first contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech for a mass supply of doses, after then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made dozens of calls to CEO Albert Bourla.
Earlier Sunday, the top Health Ministry official said Pfizer’s new drug “sounds promising” but stressed “we need to learn about its efficacy, side effects and costs.”
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told 103FM radio a decision would be made after the full results of the trial were published, and predicted that Israel’s “good relationship with Pfizer will help us bring the drug quickly.”
Pfizer announced Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent as the drugmaker joins the race to bring the first easy-to-use medication against the coronavirus to the global market.
Currently all COVID-19 treatments used in the US require an IV or injection.
Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to give it approval.
Pfizer said it would ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months.
In recent weeks Israel has also recorded a sustained drop in morbidity, with infections and deaths plummeting from the peaks recorded at the height of the fourth major coronavirus wave to hit the country.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 194 new “cases” were recorded in Israel on Saturday, with 0.68 percent of tests coming back positive. Testing rates are lower at the weekends.
There were 6,393 active infections, including 178 people hospitalized in serious condition.
There have been 1,333,743 verified COVID cases in Israel since the pandemic began.
The national death toll stood at 8,114.
Header: This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows its new antiviral medication (Merck & Co. via AP)