Pfizer is not unlawfully trialling its coronavirus vaccine on people in Israel and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has no plan to announce this, despite claims from Facebook users to the contrary.
Several Facebook posts have shared a screenshot from an unidentified website purportedly quoting an Israeli newspaper about the alleged announcement (here, here). The headline on the screenshot reads: “Helsinki to declare Pfizer performing unauthorised human experiment,” and is followed by further text reading: “Calcalist reports the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is expected to announce that Pfizer is conducting unauthorised human experiments. The committee in charge of supervising human trials is expected to submit an opinion to the Health Ministry stating that the immunisation process led by the state with Pfizer is a clinical study and therefore needed to be improved in advance. The committee can also determine that the Israeli government must stop transferring information to Pfizer; Dr. Tehila Schwartz-Altshuler: ‘To say this is not an experiment is a lie.’”
Firstly, the headline does not refer to Helsinki, Finland, but to the Helsinki Committee in Israel, which authorises clinical trials on humans (here). There are many countries with Helsinki Committees, which are named after the Helsinki Accords – a diplomatic agreement affirming national borders since the Second World War, which lists 10 fundamental commitments including for human rights. It was signed in 1975 at the end of the first conference of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE – now known as OSCE). Israel is a member of the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners (www.csce.gov/country/israel).
Secondly, the Israeli newspaper Calcalist published a piece on Jan. 18 suggesting Pfizer had not received the committee’s approval before its COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out to Israeli citizens. However, the article has since been updated with the committee’s comments clarifying the matter (here).
The Calcalist article quoted Professor Eitan Friedman, the head of Israel’s Helsinki Committee, who initially responded to the claims on Facebook here . He said the vaccinations themselves did not constitute a clinical trial but confirmed the committee had been investigating the types of data being sent to Pfizer about vaccinated citizens. This was said to be for the purposes of future research.
An English translation of his remarks was provided by Israel’s business newspaper Globes. In a report here the newspaper translates Friedman’s remarks as follows: “We are currently checking if the agreement is according to regulations protecting privacy in clinical trials and we will issue an official announcement on our conclusions.
“We are responsible for protecting the medical privacy of Israel’s citizens and as part of this work we are examining the agreement and if it protects the rights of citizens. We have no doubt that the Ministry of Health is behaving with transparency and is planning to protect these rights, but still our role is to ensure that the rules are being kept.
“The vaccination itself has passed all the approvals. The vaccine is not a clinical trial and we call on everyone that doesn’t have a contraindication to go and get vaccinated. We want to make sure as the Helsinki Committee that the rights and privacy of the State of Israel are being protected even if clinical research is being conducted, then it should be appropriate research.”
The Israeli Ministry of Health also commented on the issue to the newspaper (here). It said in a statement: “We are talking about a vaccine that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EU's European Medicines Agency (EMA) and from that point of view there is no clinical trial here which requires the Helsinki Committee. The trial ended after Phase III by Pfizer and the results were published." (here).
False. The Helsinki Committee in Israel is not planning to say Pfizer is conducting unauthorised human trials with its COVID-19 vaccine. The committee is looking into the type of data being shared with Pfizer for privacy purposes, but this is not related to administering the vaccine.
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