Israel, Denmark and Austria reach agreement for vaccine development

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Leaders from Israel, Austria and Denmark announced in Jerusalem on Thursday an alliance for the development and production of next-generation coronavirus vaccines, a deal that has already drawn criticism in Europe.

The three countries will launch “a research and development fund” and start “joint efforts for the joint production of future vaccines”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette. Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“We don’t know how long … the (current coronavirus) vaccines will last,” Netanyahu added.

“Is it six months, is it a year, is it two years, is it more, is it less? We do not know. So we have to protect our people against the re-emergence of this pandemic, or mutations.

He did not specify the amount of the fund or the production capacity target.

Frederiksen said the three countries “all have promising research that could pave the way for a next-generation platform,” adding that they “would also like to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials.”

Both Denmark and Austria are members of the European Union, and the Israeli partnership has drawn criticism from France, another EU member state, which has said the European framework remains the best way to ensure ” solidarity” within the bloc.

Kurz had announced the alliance on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines”, leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks from pharmaceutical companies.

But France defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution to meet our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework”.

“This is what guarantees solidarity between member states, which is more essential than ever,” he said on Wednesday evening.

But Kurz said on Thursday, “We need to cooperate on this issue within the European Union…but we also need to cooperate around the world.”

He added that “Israel is the first country in the world to show that it is possible to beat the virus.”

– ‘No contradiction’ –

Israel, among the world leaders in Covid-19 vaccinations per capita, launched a massive inoculation campaign in December, backed by a deal with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which airlifted its vaccine developed with the German company. BioNTech in exchange for data on its effects.

The Jewish state has so far administered at least one of the two recommended doses to more than half of its population of nine million, and has conducted a series of large-scale trials that have so far confirmed effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The rapid deployment has allowed businesses to reopen and activities to resume in public spaces, some of which, such as sports centres, are reserved for people with a “green badge” indicating that they have received two doses.

Netanyahu, who took his Danish and Austrian guests to visit a gym on Thursday, and opened the door for other countries to join the alliance as well.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged “significant” shortcomings in EU vaccination policies, while criticizing what he called “attempts at secession”.

Austria’s neighbors the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.

The EU has faced a steep shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries it was counting on to launch its vaccine rollout, with British-Swedish company AstraZeneca coming under heavy criticism from the European Commission for providing only a fraction of the vaccine doses he had promised to deliver to the block.

The European Commission, however, refrained from censoring the Israel-Austria-Denmark alliance.

“We welcome the fact that member states are exploring all possible options to improve the common European response to the virus,” said commission spokesman Eric Mamer.

“For us, there is no contradiction,” he added.

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