The vaccine rollout remains mired in confusion. Health Minister Greg Hunt is making contradictory claims about how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine the government could have bought in the middle last year. Callum Foote reports.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is making contradictory claims about how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine the government could have bought in the middle last year.
On the one hand Hunt is claiming that he couldn’t have ordered more than 10 million doses because Pfizer wouldn’t have been able to supply them.
At the same time, he claims he didn’t want to buy more because of the medical advice. According to Hunt, the medical advice was that due to the novelty of mRNA vaccines, the government should only order a small amount. The advice hasn’t been released publicly.
Minister Hunt has claimed that he “secured all of the available doses at the earliest possible time, that could’ve been done, and Pfizer’s confirmed that.”
Pfizer has said, however, that it proposed supplying 10 million doses, “the number initially contracted by the Government”.
During a Senate Committee hearing, Labor senator Kristina Keneally tried to pin down Pfizer by asking:
“Was Pfizer unable to commit to more doses at that point?”
Pfizer’s Ms Graham responded with a straight bat:
“Pfizer proposed 10 million doses at that point.”
Michael West Media asked Hunt’s office a number of questions including whether any decisions were made for financial reasons.
The spokesman stated categorically that cost was not a factor.
“The decision to purchase vaccines was based on the advice of the Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group. As is evident in the Government’s multi-vaccine Strategy, the cost of the vaccine was not a determining factor.
The Government has followed the advice of SITAG at all times on both the selection and quantity of vaccines.”
Both Pfizer and Hunt’s office have refused to comment on whether Pfizer would have supplied more doses if the government had contracted for more. Pfizer has claimed that the amount sent to Australia was based on “on the availability of doses and earliest schedule that could be provided at that time”.
However, Pfizer has not commented as to why it was only able to supply the specific 10 million doses it was contracted to provide.
At the time Australia ordered the 10 million Pfizer doses, Pfizer was in the process of delivering more than 1 billion doses to 34 other countries.
Numerous sources have claimed that Australia’s procurement process with Pfizer was undermined by the “nickle and diming” of the procurement officer in an unofficial meeting with Pfizer on July 10, 2020.
Hunt’s office said the description of the procurement officer as being inexperienced was incorrect. Hunt said the officer was the equivalent of “a two star general” but has refused to state publicly who it was and his actual role.
According to those in the room in the July 2020 meeting, Pfizer had offered Australia the option to make an advance purchase agreement for enough doses for a national Pfizer rollout. Countries such as Israel took up a similar offer, reportedly paying a significant amount for the vaccines.
Israel’s adult vaccination rate now stands at more than 80%.
The Department of Health has also not made public the source or content of the advice that led to Australia’s vaccine rollout strategy, which ultimately led to the Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group (SITAG) signing an agreement with AstraZeneca in August last year.
The Federal Government has been accused of playing a mates game after it was revealed that former senior Liberal staffer Kieran Schneemann was the head of government affairs (read:lobbying) at AstraZeneca Australia.
Callum Foote is a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media. He has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests.