Israel releases data-sharing deal with Pfizer

Israel has secured a significant stock of coronavirus vaccines partly by pledging to share product impact data quickly, an agreement between the country and Pfizer seen by AFP on Monday indicates.

The Jewish state has given one jab of the two required Pfizer-BioNTech injections to more than two million people, a pace widely described as the world’s fastest, while several wealthier nations continue to struggle with vaccine supply.

Israel, which experts say has one of the world’s most sophisticated medical databases, has not concealed the fact that it agreed to share data with US-German pharma alliance Pfizer-BioNTech during its vaccination campaign. 

As data privacy activists raised questions about the level of information sharing with Pfizer, Israel’s health ministry released a partially redacted copy of the terms. 

The deal called “The Real-World Epidemiological Evidence Collaboration Agreement” does not state the specific terms of any ‘data for doses’ arrangement. 

But it does make clear that Pfizer understands Israel must remain well stocked in order to generate quality data about the vaccine quickly. 

The agreement defines the joint project between Israel and Pfizer as an effort to “measure and analyse epidemiological data arising from the product (vaccine) rollout.”

It further says Israel’s health ministry “is relying on receipt of product doses… and on the product delivery rate by Pfizer to allow maintaining (a) vaccination rate sufficient to achieve herd immunity and enough data as soon as possible.” 

“Both parties acknowledge that the viability and success of the project is dependent on the rate and scope of vaccinations in Israel,” it continues. 

– ‘Experiment on humans’ –

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month said that Israel had agreed “to share with Pfizer and with the entire world the statistical data that will help develop strategies for defeating the coronavirus.”

Israel’s arrangement with Pfizer would help make it “the first country in the world to emerge from the coronavirus,” he predicted. 

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a data privacy specialist at the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank who spoke to AFP before the data sharing terms were published, described Israel’s digitised medical data system as “a very unique asset.”

She said regulators have justifiably given emergency approval to Pfizer’s vaccine given the gravity of the pandemic, but that the company is eagerly seeking more comprehensive data about its product. 

“Israel can offer Pfizer, within like a month or six weeks, data on a couple of million people,” she said. 

But she warned that Israel’s rollout of the Pfizer vaccine amounted to “the biggest experiment on humans in the 21st Century”.

Altshuler added that there should have been a more thorough public conversation about the data-sharing element of the inoculation campaign. 

by Ben Simon and Jonah Mandel