(Adds minister’s comments, Israel expected to tighten lockdown)
JERUSALEM, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Israel’s health ministry has authorised a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc, the company and an Israeli official said, marking the vaccine’s third regulatory authorisation and the first outside North America.
“Ministry of Health of Israel has secured 6 million doses and first deliveries (are) expected to begin in January,” Moderna said in a statement on Monday.
Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said he had no knowledge of shipments arriving this month.
“To my regret, we will likely only see the company’s shipment in two months,” Edelstein told reporters. “As soon as the vaccines arrive we will use them happily and if the company wants to move the arrival forward we will be happy to receive notification.”
The director-general of Israel’s health ministry, Hezi Levy, confirmed the import agreement. Interviewed by radio station 103FM, he declined to give details of the size of the shipment and said the date of its arrival was under discussion.
Moderna has received authorisation for its COVID-19 vaccine in the United States and Canada and additional authorisations are under review in the European Union, Singapore, Switzerland and Britain.
Israel has begun to vaccinate its population at one of the quickest rates in the world, and it aims to reach all vulnerable citizens by late January. Authorities started vaccinations on Dec. 19 using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Israel has also imposed a third national lockdown to fight climbing infection rates. Edelstein called for an immediate tightening of restrictions, with any final decision pending a cabinet meeting due later on Tuesday.
The Bank of Israel said on Monday it expected the economy to rebound quickly in 2021 if the fast start to vaccinating people against COVID-19 was maintained.
Israel, which has a population of about 9 million, has reported more than 450,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,448 deaths from the disease. (Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage)