Israel looking to buy 36 million booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets the 4,000,000 person vaccinated in Israel
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is looking to buy 36 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines, three times the number it has already bought, in case booster shots are needed later in the year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

Netanyahu has made Israel's world-leading COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, and what he has highlighted as his personal role in securing sufficient doses, a showcase of his campaign in the March 23 national election.

Scientists have raised the probability of regular boosts to deal with coronavirus variants. Netanyahu, with an eye on the ballot box, retweeted on Monday a comment from a senior official of his Likud party urging voters to turn to the prime minister's "proven leadership" to ensure "millions" of future doses.

"We are working on bringing a further 36 million vaccines for the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said in public remarks. "The vaccines we have, no one knows how long they last...We need to prepare for the worst scenario. The worst scenario is that we have to vaccinate every half year."

That would mean as many as 36 million doses in the coming year, if all 9 million Israelis require two doses every six months, he said.

"The entire world will compete for those vaccines ...I am again determined to bring Israel to the top of the list."

More than half the Israeli population has received a single dose of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine, and about 3.4 million of them have received two shots.

On Sunday, Israel approved plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians with Israeli work permits, a step which a rights group said did not go far enough to safeguard Palestinians in occupied territory. The Palestinians have received relatively few doses to date and lag far behind Israel.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)