The federal government showed no urgency about securing a vaccine deal with Pfizer in mid-2020. That’s according to fresh documents, released following a Labor MP’s freedom-of-information request, on the exchanges between Pfizer and the Australian Federal Ministry of Health.
The documents show that Pfizer approached the government on 30 June 2020. In a letter, Pfizer said the vaccine roll-out could happen “at unprecedented speed” and they wanted discussions to happen “as quickly as possible.”
Pfizer also said they could arrange “to make senior members of Pfizer’s global leadership team available for this discussion, particularly if the Minister and/or Departmental leadership can be involved…As the vaccine development landscape is moving swiftly, including through engagements with other nations, I am requesting this meeting occur at the earliest opportunity.”
Pfizer also offered to give a 90-minute briefing on their present and projected capacities regarding their “candidate vaccine”. The presentation was be dependent on Australian government representatives signing a confidentiality agreement in advance.
A “first assistant secretary” replied to Pfizer on 3 July. The confidentiality agreement was rebuffed as “not usual practice,” and so on 10 July, an apparently inconsequential “introductory” meeting took place between the assistant secretary and just Pfizer Australia’s local management.
According to Norman Swan, during this time Pfizer was interested in offering Australia a preferential vaccine deal. As ultimately occurred in Israel, where Pfizer boosters shot are now available to all, the deal meant first-access in exchange for safety and efficacy data.
Yet despite Pfizer’s 30 June letter, the meeting between Pfizer Global and the office of Health Minister Greg Hunt did not take place until 4 August. Nor did Minister Hunt himself actually attend that meeting.
In the meantime, the UK and US had signed vaccine supply deals with Pfizer on 20 and 22 July. The Australian federal government did not do so until November.
The new documents appear to contradict Greg Hunt’s assertion in May on 4Corners that Pfizer did not contact Australia first about procuring the mRNA vaccine.
Hunt and Morrison Refuse Blame on Pfizer Vaccine
“The Australian government entered into an Advanced Purchase Agreement (APA) with Pfizer for the purchase of their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” said the Health Minister in a written statement to the freedom-of-information revelations. Scott Morrison also weighed in on Thursday, disregarding the specific criticisms as “hindsight.”
Mark Butler, Labor’s spokesperson on health, said the government was always “a lap behind” because of its “wait and see approach.” According to Butler, “This was always a race.”
“Australians are paying the price of Scott Morrison’s incompetence; we have more people in lockdown and fewer people fully vaccinated than any other developed country.”
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