In an interview dropped on Twitter this week, Prof. Talia Geva revealed why she and her colleagues resigned from Israel’s Helsinki Committee in January 2020, raising questions about Israel’s medical experimentation practices.
The Helsinki Committee is a medical watchdog whose purpose is to “authorize medical research and trials on humans, which aim to expand medical knowledge and improve the outcomes of medical treatment.”
In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Israel, the Helsinki Committee suddenly received a letter from Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov stripping them of their authority.
Authority to approve research experiments on humans would now be given to local committees at hospitals who stand to benefit from participating in the research.
“Go stand before your boss at the hospital and tell him that you object to the approval of a study that will earn millions for their shrinking budget,” said Geva. “When you sit on a hospital's committee and think to yourself that your hospital is likely to receive some hundreds of millions of shekels or tens of millions of shekels, that is likely to influence your decision to some extent.”
Geva also explained why Siman Tov, who is an economist, made the decision.
“It was presented to us that it is in the State's economic interest to invite more industrial pharmaceutical research projects,” she said.
But Siman Tov needed a committee that would approve research, even if it meant skipping discussions about the ethics of the research, which is the committee’s main purpose.
“The price that the State asked the Supreme Helsinki Committee to pay was to skip certain steps in the ethical deliberations necessary for approval of such studies, and we refused to be a part of that.”
“That is why the Supreme Committee is so important,” Geva added. “It is external to the hospital and therefore is not subject to any of these conflicts of interest. We are not interested in, we do not agree to Israel becoming a playground for the drug companies. There is some research that they do only in third world countries, and we don't want that to be us.”
Israel was the first country to roll out the vaccines after getting special terms in exchange for providing Pfizer with vaccination data.
According to Globes, then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed why Israel had received so many vaccine doses so quickly: Israel has committed to send Pfizer "data and details especially gathered for them, including the consequences of the inoculations, side effects, efficacy, amount of time it takes to develop antibodies. according to different types of population, age, gender, preexisting conditions etc. The agreement extensively details the various parameters that will be sent to Pfizer."
Israel continued its experimentation on Israelis, eventually bypassing the Helsinki Committee altogether by the fourth dose, Times of Israel reported at the time.
Hebrew media reported that "A study examining the effectiveness of a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has reportedly yet to commence, even as the Health Ministry moves forward with authorizing the extra shot for those at risk.
"Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv was scheduled to begin its trial on 100 volunteers this week after requesting approval from the so-called Helsinki Committee, which signs off on all clinical trials in Israel, at the beginning of December.
"But the panel never authorized the trial."