It seems that the Australian government’s botched vaccine rollout extends even further than we thought, with new information revealing Pfizer offered Health Minister Greg Hunt a meeting with its top executives in June 2020 — but Hunt’s office didn’t get involved directly until August.
New emails released by Labor under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that Pfizer actually approached Health Minister Greg Hunt’s office all the way back on June 30, 2020 saying that they were keen to meet with him “at the earliest opportunity” to discuss the vaccine.
Pfizer said the company was collaborating with BioNTech to produce and test the vaccine, which they said could potentially “be deployed at unprecedented speed”.
“We have 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,” the email said.
You’d think an email like that would spark some urgency, but the Health Department replied a whole three days later offering to have the company talk with assistant first secretary Lisa Schofield instead.
AUSTRALIANS are calling on Health Minister Greg Hunt to resign after shock evidence emerged today confirming reports the Australian Government snubbed opportunities with Pfizer to get ample vaccines to Australia in 2020. #auspol— PRGuy (@PRGuy17) September 8, 2021
The first meeting was scheduled for July 10, but Schofield claimed earlier this year that no offers for doses came up and it was more of an introductory meeting to discuss the company’s progress in making the vaccine. Except, the unearthed emails show that Pfizer offered to have a more detailed meeting if the government would sign confidential disclosure agreements.
“If we can get this signed ahead of Friday’s meeting then we will include several senior Global Pfizer colleagues on the call to be able to provide the detail you may be seeking on a range [of] issues,” an email dated July 6 said.
“Alternatively we are happy to treat this Friday as just an exploratory/introductory meeting without the CDA, in which case it will be limited to my Australian colleagues.”
Another follow-up email from the next day said that some highly detailed information on the company’s development and trial process could be discussed if the CDAs were signed.
You might be having a bad day at work, but at least you didn't ignore two months worth of Pfizer meeting requests, and in doing so plunge half your country into a completely avoidable second wave of lockdowns.— Shaun Crowe (@shauncrowe) September 8, 2021
“I am assuming a postponement to next week to enable time to review and sign the CDA, and find an appropriate time slot, is most likely but my local colleagues are keeping 10.30am on Friday free nonetheless,” a follow up email from Pfizer dated July 7 said.
So while much of Greg Hunt’s own state of Victoria was entering lockdown in July 2020, and despite Pfizer wanting to move at “unprecendented speed” to deploy vaccines, no one from his office even met with Pfizer until nearly 4 WEEKS later?— Emma (@emma__jayne14) September 8, 2021
However, our government decided to go for just the introductory meeting instead, and legal reps were still trying to sort out the CDA drama on July 23 (two weeks later!!) when a Pfizer representative mentioned that the US and UK had already signed deals for their doses.
The Health Minister’s office didn’t end up meeting with Pfizer until August 4, and Greg Hunt didn’t even attend that meeting. And as we already know, our government didn’t put in an order for Pfizer doses until months later in November.
????Greg Hunt responds to Labor's Pfizer FOI emails— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) September 8, 2021
"The ALP claim is false and has been refuted with facts on multiple occasions by multiple parties"
says the "millions" of doses reference in the emails was Pfizer's *global* capacity, not what was offered to Australia #auspol pic.twitter.com/P2I6onw4Jc
Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said the emails prove Prime Minister Scott Morrison chose “a deliberate wait and see approach to vaccine deals”.
“These papers confirm that Scott Morrison simply didn’t take Pfizer seriously enough when he should, while every other developed country on the face of the planet was busy securing early supplies of Pfizer vaccines,” he said, as per ABC.
Greg Hunt’s office hasn’t explained why it took so long for his office to organise a meeting, or why he wasn’t at the first one, but a spokesperson for the Minister rejected arguments that the government was too slow to act, saying the government ordered Pfizer “as soon as possible”.
“The reference in the letter to the ‘potential to supply millions of vaccine doses’ … referred to Pfizer’s global production capacity, not what was on offer to Australia,” the spokesperson said.
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