Teenagers ages 12-15 will be allowed to begin receiving vaccinations for COVID-19 in the next six months, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Thursday, predicting that younger children – ages 5-11 – will also begin to receive the jab by the end of the year.
Bourla told N12 that he regretted using the phrase “world’s lab” when referring to Israel, though he does not regret choosing Israel as a case study to look at the vaccine’s efficacy.
“We knew that it is very appropriate for humanity to be able to select one country, so that we can demonstrate what the vaccination of the people can do to the health index, the health of the people, and to the economic index, because they will be able to reopen the economy,” he said.
When asked what made him choose Israel as a case study, Bourla said “Of course, I was talking with several heads of state. I spoke to your prime minister, he convinced me that Israel is the place with the right conditions.”
By “right conditions,” Bourla meant that Israel has a small population – 9 million – an “extraordinary healthcare system,” and a large amount of electronic data on its citizens.
“But also,” he added, “I was impressed, frankly, with the obsession of your prime minister. He called me 30 times.”
“He would call me at 3 o’clock in the morning and he would ask me ‘What about the variants?’ asking what data we have. I would say ‘Mr. Prime Minister, its 3 o’clock,’ and he would say ‘No, no, don’t worry, tell me.'”
“He convinced me, frankly, that he would be on top of things,” Bourla said of Netanyahu.
However, while Netanyahu is perhaps a persuasive negotiator, the relationship between Pfizer and Israel does not rest solely on the prime minister’s shoulders. When asked whether Israel would continue to receive future vaccinations at the same rate, irrespective of its leader, Bourla said “Of course.”
“I knew that the Israelis, they have such an experience in managing crises, because of the situation they live, surrounded, basically, by hostile nations, to a varying degree, and living under this almost constant war situation. So I felt that they can do it, and I felt that the leader was really going to guarantee that this would happen.”
“So we placed a bet with Israel. We are so happy, because the way that you executed was beyond our imagination.”
Bourla said that after publishing the press release with the case study’s results, he began receiving calls from different heads of state congratulating him, telling him that they now feel hope again and see a light at the end of the tunnel.
When asked about his postponed visit to Israel, he said that while he wanted to celebrate the vaccine’s effectiveness on the anniversary of the pandemic announcement by the WHO, saying it would be “glorious” to do so in the country that he loves, he was unable to come due to logistic issues relating to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m a Jew and Israel, for the Jewish people is a safe harbor, we all have a special connection, and for it to be on that date. But it was also quite complicated, as a trip, because I was not supposed to be only in Israel, I was supposed to be in some other states,” he said. “In the middle of the pandemic, the logistics were not always perfect, so we decided that I stay here. But I want very much to come as soon as possible.”
He added that one of his reasons for wanting to visit Israel again is to improve ties and offer collaborations between Pfizer and the Israeli scientific and academic communities, especially in the areas of biology and artificial intelligence, of which he says Israel is on the “cutting edge.”