Pharma giant Pfizer sought meetings with Health Minister Greg Hunt to discuss supply of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia in June 2020, hoping to open talks with the Morrison government as countries including the US and UK signed major deals.
Amid criticism of the government’s slow vaccination campaign, freedom of information documents released by Labor show no one from Mr Hunt’s office met with the company until August 4, despite the company offering urgent talks with “senior members of Pfizer’s global leadership”.
Pfizer said it had “potential to supply millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020” and asked for a meeting at the earliest opportunity. It warned the vaccine landscape was moving swiftly, “including through engagements with other nations”.
Last month Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected Labor’s claims they were too slow to engage with senior executives, after former prime minister Kevin Rudd revealed he made unsolicited representations to Pfizer’s global boss, Albert Bourla, on behalf of Australia.
In a lengthy statement, Mr Hunt’s rejected Labor’s claims and said officials had worked with Pfizer since early in the pandemic.
“The Australian government entered into an advanced purchase agreement 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 [the Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group] and the maximum doses available,” a spokesman said.
Australia’s first deal with Pfizer, for 10 million doses, was signed in November. Countries hard hit by COVID-19 cases and deaths signed deals as early as July 2020.
The newly released documents show on July 3 last year Lisa Schofield, the senior Health Department official responsible for vaccine agreements, said she had passed on the letter to Mr Hunt and asked to lock in a meeting.
The company said a meeting could be arranged once a confidential non-disclosure agreement was signed by Australia. A 90-minute meeting was proposed, with the agenda to include “supply chain and procurement processes”.