by Ricardo Brito
BRASÍLIA (Reuters) – The then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, defended in March, in a conversation with the head of Brazilian diplomacy at the time, Ernesto Araújo, that the quick purchase of Pfizer’s vaccine against Covid-19, even in the face of of criticism due to the price of the immunizing agent, it was essential to control the pandemic in the country and enable the reopening of the Israeli economy.
According to diplomatic cables sent by the Brazilian ambassador in Tel Aviv, General Gerson Menandro Garcia de Freitas, to Itamaraty, Netanyahu justified the advance purchase of immunizations from Araújo with the argument that the price paid guaranteed the rapid start of mass vaccination in Israel.
Netanyahu’s stance –an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro who left Israel’s command this month after 12 years in power– contrasts with the Brazilian government’s delay in expediting the purchase of the immunizing agent from Pfizer. The negotiation for the vaccine and Araújo are investigated by the CPI of Covid in the Senate.
The report of the conversation between the then Israeli prime minister and the Brazilian chancellor, which took place on March 7, was made by the Brazilian ambassador in a correspondence to Itamaraty a day later. The message was forwarded to Covid’s CPI and obtained by Reuters.
“Netanyahu… commented that initially there was a lot of criticism of Pfizer’s own-led purchases of vaccines. The criticisms focused on the price paid for the millions of doses, which, according to the Israeli agent, did not significantly exceed the values practiced in the market”, says the text of a telegram.
“For Netanyahu, the price paid off by ensuring that vaccines reach Israel once approved for mass use. Getting ahead in the race for vaccines was fundamental so that today the pandemic is practically under control in Israel and the economy can be reopened, anticipating the resumption of economic development”, highlighted the ambassador’s report.
Netanyahu revealed in the conversation that Pfizer planned to build a vaccine production plant in Israel. “Should the idea materialize, Brazil could also benefit from the production of vaccines on Israeli soil,” he said, according to the ambassador’s report.
In another cable, dated March 15, Garcia de Freitas gave more details to Itamaraty about the Israeli government contract with the Pfizer laboratory for the purchase of vaccines against Covid.
In this correspondence, the ambassador highlighted that, initially, Netanyahu himself “led the preliminary negotiations, by making contact with the management of the Pfizer company at the beginning of the pandemic (even before the global escalation of the pandemic)”.
“The government of Israel paid an increased price for the vaccines, in order to ensure priority in receiving the doses, whose first shipment was delivered in this country on December 9, 2020,” said Garcia de Freitas in the telegram. Israel began immunizing before the turn of the year.
Despite Israel being cited as an example by Bolsonaro on several occasions for various matters, on the issue of vaccines, the Brazilian government did not accelerate negotiations with Pfizer, even though the laboratory offered, since the middle of last year, the possibility of an agreement with the country also in December supply of vaccines.
One of the government’s allegations for Brazil to stop the negotiations was that there would be “leonine” clauses that would be harmful to the country. Pfizer representatives, however, have said that the same clauses have been presented to dozens of other countries.
Last month, Reuters revealed that then-Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello’s management sidelined negotiations with Pfizer for the purchase of vaccines, believing that the country would not need more immunizations beyond the agreements for national production of Oxford-AstraZeneca and vaccines. CoronaVac. Sources told Reuters that the clauses would be surmountable.
Only at the end of the negotiations did Pazuello and Bolsonaro become involved with Pfizer executives. The Ministry of Health only formally signed an agreement to purchase 100 million doses of the vaccine with Pfizer on March 15, and the first doses began to be applied in early May.
Sought by e-mail to comment on the content of the telegrams, the Israeli Embassy in Brazil did not respond immediately.
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