The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
Contrary to Labor’s claims, the Australian Government was working with Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies from early in the pandemic on vaccine purchase, including direct discussions with Pfizer prior to them allowing formal commencement of negotiations.
Labor is again seeking to undermine the vaccination program, just as Australians are playing their part, rolling up their sleeves and hitting key vaccination targets to bring the lock downs to an end.
Mark Butler is like a broken record, trying to re-hash claims which have already been discredited.
Both Pfizer and the Health Department have consistently confirmed, including on the public record at Senate Estimates, that the Australian Government entered into formal discussions on the purchase of vaccines, as soon as the company was in a position to do so, and were in discussions prior to this.
When formal discussions began, no country had a contract with Pfizer.
The documents to which Mr Butler refers, which were published on 16 August on the Department of Health website, re-confirm this very point.
From the start of the pandemic, the Government was talking with pharmaceutical companies and health experts around the world, to ascertain whether a vaccine could be developed and how long that would take.
This included regular discussions with the Minister’s office and Pfizer, including a meeting on 26 June 2020, initiated by the Minister’s office. This is referenced in an email released in the documents, and this was followed by the letter on 30 June to move to a formal briefing.
The Australian Government moved immediately to formal negotiations with the first step being to agree and negotiate a Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement.
A Vaccinations Taskforce had been established to lead the negotiations with a range of potential vaccine companies. The Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group, Chaired by Professor Brendan Murphy was also established to advise the Government on the vaccine procurement.
The Minister directed the head of the Taskforce to undertake the negotiations, as appropriate and the Department’s first formal meeting with Pfizer was on 10 July.
At this stage, as Pfizer confirms, the vaccine candidate was only in Phase 1 clinical trials.
The Australian Government entered into an Advanced Purchase Agreement (APA) with Pfizer for the purchase of their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, whilst ensuring safe and effective vaccines for Australians based on the medical advice from SITAG and the maximum doses available.
Pfizer’s Statement at the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 hearing on 28 January 2021 states:
“As Pfizer informed Parliament whilst giving evidence on the record to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 hearing on 28 January 2021, Pfizer proposed to the Australian Government the procurement of 10 million doses of our COVID-19 vaccine and that was the number initially contracted by the Government. The parties have since signed agreements for a further 30 million doses for 2021. Our discussions are confidential, however the supply of vaccine in Australia was developed following consultation with the Australian Government and each agreement was based on the availability of doses and earliest schedule that could be provided at that time.”
As Pfizer has made clear, no earlier doses were available to Australia.
The reference in the letter to the “potential to supply millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020, subject to technical success and regulatory approvals, then rapidly scale up to produce hundreds of millions of doses in 2021” referred to Pfizer’s global production capacity not what was on offer to Australia.
This is another desperate attempt by Labor to try to misrepresent the vaccine procurement process.
Australians can be proud of the vaccination program which has more 89 per cent of people over the age of 70 having had a vaccine, and more than 60 per cent of eligible population over the age of 60 having had a first dose.
Not only do we have more than enough doses for every Australian, we also have established local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been a significant achievement in providing vaccines for Australians and the region.