DAVOS 2021: Netanyahu warns COVID-19 'arms race' will last for years

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, in Jerusalem. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Pool Photo via AP, File
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, in Jerusalem. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Pool Photo via AP, File

COVID-19 is likely to persist like an annual flu, the prime minister of Israel has predicting, saying humanity faces an ongoing “arms race” against the mutating virus.

“We’re in an arms race,” Benjamin Netanyahu said during an appearance at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda conference on Wednesday. “It’s a race between mutation and vaccinations, especially with the British mutation.

“There are more mutations, there’ll be more mutations in the future. It means we have to race as fast as we can to vaccinate first the risk groups in the population and then everyone else in order to give immunity.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 crisis won't end until developing nations get vaccine

Netanyahu said populations would likely have to undergo annual vaccinations and pharmaceutical companies would have to develop new versions of the vaccines to fight emerging mutations.

“I expect we’ll have to inoculate ourselves at least annually,” he said. “That’s my guess. I’m stocking Israel’s shelves so to speak.”

Earlier this month Israel struck a deal with Pfizer (PFE) for future supply of its COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for anonymised data on Israeli’s health.

“I expect this to be absolutely like the flu, probably more so,” Netanyahu said.

“That’s going to be our life for the coming years. I don’t think that we’re going to evade that. But we can overcome it.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on 19 December. Photo: Amir Cohen/Pool via AP
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on 19 December. Photo: Amir Cohen/Pool via AP

Israel has been the world leader in COVID-19 vaccinations, with almost half its population vaccinated already. Netanyahu said 82% of the country’s over-60s had received at least one dose.

“We purchased a lot fast,” he said. “We didn’t quibble about the price. I personally got involved in it and I said, basically to the bureaucrats... cut the c-word. You pay a few more dollars per dose now, tomorrow everyone will be paying ten times that much. You need personal leadership to move it.”

READ MORE: Fortune 500 could join global vaccination effort, CEO says

Netanyahu said he personally helped to broker the deal with Pfizer, holding 21 calls with the company’s chief executive.

“The selling point was a real one, turns out to be true, is Israel could turn out to be a world laboratory for herd immunity or something approaching herd immunity very quickly,” he said.

Israel will be the “global test case” for how to use vaccinations to safely return to something like normality.

“What is the best way and what is the efficacy of using this inoculation to move the economy forward, to open up the economies — what risk are we taking? What’s the infection rate? And so on,” Netanyahu said.

WATCH: Vaccines give us light at the end of tunnel: Bank of Israel