Australia’s vaccine rollout has faced national criticism and ridicule, and the latest Pfizer development has only made matters worse. When news broke on Friday that Australia would see 1 million Pfizer doses a week by mid-July, it was just the beginning of a he-said-she-said back and forth between the company, a high ranking business figure and the nations’s current and former prime ministers.
On Thursday, news broke that the Morrison Government would be ramping up the vaccine supply, with the 4.5 million doses expected to arrive in September now brought forward, however, an ABC article has now alleged Pfizer changes came about through the intervention of anonymous senior business figures and former prime minister Kevin Rudd, rather than by government negotiations as Morrison had led us to believe.
On Friday following the news, prime minister Scott Morrison conducted an early morning media blitz, congratulating his government on the Nine Network’s Today Show.
“We have been working with Pfizer now for quite some period of time to bring forward our supplies… I commend Minister [Greg] Hunt and Professor [Brendan] Murphy and Lieutenant General [John] Frewen for the great job getting those supplies brought forward,” he said.
Pfizer subsequently released a statement confirming the bring forward but emphasising it did not involve an overall increase in the contracted 40 million doses agreed with Australia
Pfizer was quick to clarify that the number of vaccines set to reach Australia had not increased. The company said that while the exact details of their agreement with the government were confidential, the delivery schedule would be continually updated in line with the “ramp-up” in the vaccine’s availability in Australia.
While a spokesman for health minister Greg Hunt has confirmed that the bring forward was a result of government negotiations, according to reports by the ABC former prime minister Kevin Rudd lobbied the chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla in June in order to accelerate the vaccine rollout, stating he was acting as a “concerned citizen”.
The ABC reported Rudd’s conversations with the pharmaceutical giant came after a senior Australian business figure based overseas raised concerns about the slow delivery of vaccines, allegedly considering contacting Pfizer to see if it was possible to get earlier access to larger supplies of the Pfizer vaccine following the first cases of the Delta variant on Australian shores.
In a letter from Rudd to Morrison on June 30, which was obtained by the ABC Rudd said he had spoken to Dr Bourla and asked “whether there was any possible way, given Pfizer’s current international contractual obligations, to advance the dispatch of significant quantities of the Pfizer vaccine to Australia as early as the third quarter this year”.
“In response to my representations, Dr Bourla said he would personally look at ‘what further might be able to be done’,” the letter reads.
“I did so not as a representative of the Australian government but purely in my private capacity as an Australian citizen who cares for his country’s wellbeing,” Mr Rudd wrote, adding he had “floated the possibility of Australia perhaps seeking a large-scale advance order of Pfizer’s 2022 vaccine ‘booster’.”
Health minister Greg Hunt has denied any allegations that Rudd’s discussions had an impact on delivery schedules, stating that the government had “proactively and continuously engaged directly with Pfizer throughout the Covid-19 vaccine rollout”.
“The minister has met with Pfizer Australia country head Anne Harris on multiple occasions with a view to the announcement Friday on the timeframe achieved and at the level we had hoped for, which was the maximum Pfizer had indicated might be available,” he said.
“While we were made aware of Mr Rudd’s approach, we are not aware this approach had any impact on the outcome.”
The government last week said it had reached an agreement to lift supply of Pfizer vaccines to one million doses a week, three times the weekly average of 300,000 delivered in May and June.