Israel has sped ahead of any other country in its vaccine rollout, with more than 2 million people out of a total of 9.3 million already having received the first vaccination. In exchange for access to so many doses so early, Israel agreed to share data with Pfizer, a move some in Israel says raises privacy concerns.
As much of the world scrambles to acquire enough vaccines for their respective populations, Israel already has secured enough doses for its entire population of 9.3 million people. According to media reports, Israel has paid well above the going rate for the Pfizer vaccines, hoping to be able to open the Israeli economy sooner.
Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that as part of the deal, Israel also has offered to share epidemiological data with Pfizer.
“What we promised them, and we do keep the promises you can see, that if we get the vaccine, we’ll be very efficient," said Edelstein. "We’ll vaccinate big numbers of the Israeli population, a huge proportion of the Israeli population very soon. And Pfizer will be able to see how it influences the level of disease in Israel, the possibility to open the economy, different aspects of social life, whether there are any effects of the vaccination.”
Preliminary data from the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have received two shots of the vaccine show 98% efficacy and no risk of transmission of the virus. That’s good news for Pfizer. Edelstein says the information that will be shared will be aggregate data, not individual data.
“We made it quite clear to Pfizer that we at any stage are not going to share any personal data, no private information about anyone vaccinated," said Edelstein. "But let’s just say for the sake of the example, we will know how many people with heart diseases had been vaccinated and whether there were any effects, any unfortunate cases, and so on and so forth.”
While the Health Ministry released parts of its agreement with Pfizer, other parts remained secret. Privacy Israel, an advocacy group, said it was concerned about the handling and security of private information. Other analysts said that sharing the information, even anonymously, could put people’s privacy at risk.
Nadav Davidovitch, the head of the school of public health at Ben Gurion University, says he understands these concerns but believes Pfizer will be careful with the data it receives.
“The current vaccination campaign raises several ethical issues. Many people are preoccupied with the question of privacy, and I think this is something important," said Davidovitch. "And I know for sure that Israel is not going to give identified clinical data to Pfizer. On the other hand, it’s extremely important to have the experience of Israel be submitted both to the World Health Organization and Pfizer in an unidentified way, so we can learn the lessons from Israel.”
Israel has socialized medicine, with all Israelis being members of one of four HMOs. All medical records are digitized, making it easy for the HMOs to track the effect of the vaccines. Most Israelis say despite privacy concerns, they are happy to be among the first in the world to be vaccinated.