TEL AVIV: Israel, Denmark and Austria agreed on Thursday to join forces in the fight against COVID-19 with an investment in research and roll-out of vaccines to protect people against new surges and mutations of the coronavirus.
The leaders of the three countries said their alliance will set up a foundation and vaccine distribution plants in Europe and Israel, based on Israel's world-leading inoculation drive.
The effort is aimed at getting ahead of another expected surge of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how long inoculations will remain effective.
Details, such as costs and the time frame for opening the projects, were still being worked out, the leaders said.
"We think that by joining the resources of three small but very able and gifted countries, we can better meet these challenges," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. He added that other countries have also expressed interest in the effort.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added that "this pandemic can only be overcome through global cooperation." That has been a delicate question as virus-fighting campaigns faced challenges in places like Europe and raised concerns that the pandemic would last longer in poorer countries that cannot afford vaccination campaigns.
Israel has inoculated more than half of its population in one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns, though it has faced some criticism for not sending significant amounts of vaccines to the Palestinians.
That's expected to change next week with Israel providing vaccines to some 100,000 Palestinian laborers who work in Israel or its West Bank settlements.
Still, the vast majority of the estimated 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will remain unvaccinated.
For Netanyahu, the alliance served as a way to flex his political muscle on the international stage ahead of the March 23 elections.
"Vaccination nation," as he calls Israel, would become "vaccination nations," to include Denmark and Austria, he said, adding the group would welcome more international partners.
While Israel does not produce vaccines, the prime minister has moved aggressively to secure enough vaccines for Israel's 9.3 million people in deals with Pfizer and Moderna.
Netanyahu has even offered some surplus vaccines to allied nations. The European leaders said they wanted to learn from Israel's success.
Austria is among a number of European Union members that have expressed frustration over the vaccine's slow rollout among the 27-nation bloc.
Kurz said he was happy with some of the EU's handling of the crisis, "but we also need to cooperate worldwide.
"Earlier in the day, Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen joined Netanyahu at a gym in Israel to observe how vaccine certifications, known as the "green pass," or passport, work.
Only people with the badge indicating they have been vaccinated, obtained through an app, can use gyms and go to concerts.
"Vaccine production involves many steps, so we will divide the task between us, and each is to focus on specific ones," said Kurz, who said his country will need about 30 million doses for the pandemic's next expected stage.
Austria has vaccinated just over 6% of its population. Frederiksen said that she would also like to see the countries cooperate on clinical trials.
Denmark has inoculated a little over 7% of its population as of March 1. "We all have promising research that could pave the way for next generation platforms," she said.