Israel spent millions to develop COVID vaccine – watchdog

News » Health Israel has spent millions developing a COVID vaccine - Controller

As nations around the world vied for a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to protect their populations from COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, Shmuel Shapira, director of the secretive Ness Ziona Biological Institute, insisted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allow the institute to “quickly” develop an alternative vaccine. Shapira saw this as a chance to improve the position of an institution facing budget cuts while boosting its own prestige.

Unaware or unwilling to explore the institution's capabilities, Netanyahu agreed and called the development of BriLife a national mission, funding the project a budget of around NIS 230 million.

“If we work fast enough, with the right budget and with the talented people we have, Israel will be ahead of the world here too,” – Netanyahu said then.

Last December, after Shapira stepped down, his successor, Shmuel Yitzhaki, announced that the development of a vaccine “had failed.” Critics said that Shapira was confident that on a modest budget with 80 employees, he could beat Merck – a pharmaceutical company with a turnover exceeding $48 billion. After the fiasco, Shapira cited “bureaucratic reasons” and stated that “the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not as successful as claimed.”

The Comptroller of State, in his investigation into the Ness Ziona failure, writes that the BriLife project was closed without completion of development and production of vaccines and without their approval for use in humans. He claims that an audit conducted back in 2018 showed that his equipment is outdated and does not comply with the requirements of GMP good manufacturing practice.

was known even before the start of the pandemic, but Shapira still decided to produce the vaccine”, – said the State Comptroller.

“Crisis management requires decision-making and rapid action in the face of stress and uncertainty. At the same time, relevance cannot be an excuse for the shortcomings that existed after February 2020, when the institute was entrusted with the task of development”, – the controller counts.

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