The federal government has given “indemnity” to suppliers of coronavirus vaccines against liabilities, but is refusing to provide details about what they have agreed to.
The health department said the government has committed to “appropriately share risks associated with achieving early access to a successful vaccine”.
In August, The New Daily began asking questions of the federal Department of Health and vaccine manufacturers, after it was reported that AstraZeneca – producing the promising University of Oxford candidate – had been asking for indemnity in agreements it signs with governments.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised any COVID vaccine would be provided free, to all Australians, and be made “as mandatory as you can possibly make”.
According to Reuters, Ruud Dobber – AstraZeneca executive vice-president and president of its biopharmaceuticals business unit – said: “We as a company simply cannot take the risk if in … four years the vaccine is showing side effects”.
“In the contracts, we have in place, we are asking for indemnification.”
At the time, the federal Department of Health would only say that details of negotiations with AstraZeneca “are commercial in confidence”.
AstraZeneca also declined to comment on the indemnification claims or Mr Dobber’s comments.
But included deep in the federal budget papers, released on Tuesday night, is an admission that the government has indeed agreed to an indemnity for vaccine manufacturers – not only for AstraZeneca but also the candidate being produced at the University of Queensland.
“The Australian government has provided an indemnity to the suppliers of two potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates, covering certain liabilities that could result from the use of the vaccine,” the federal budget reveals.
“This includes the University of Oxford vaccine candidate, which is sponsored by AstraZeneca, and the University of Queensland vaccine candidate, which is marketed by Seqirus.”
The brief note is included in a “statement of risks” to the budget, a section that lists “general fiscal risks, specific contingent liabilities and specific contingent assets that may affect the budget balances”.
In a statement to The New Daily on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed indemnities had been granted to the vaccine companies, but wouldn’t share any details as to the agreement.
“The government has acknowledged the need to appropriately share risks associated with achieving early access to a successful vaccine, and has actively engaged with potential COVID-19 vaccine suppliers on this issue,” the spokesperson said.
“As noted in the 2020-2021 budget papers, through the relevant advanced purchasing agreements (APAs), the Australian government has subsequently provided an indemnity to the suppliers of the University of Oxford vaccine candidate, which is sponsored by AstraZeneca, and the University of Queensland vaccine candidate, which is marketed by Seqirus, covering certain liabilities that could result from the use of the vaccine.
“Specific details contained in the APAs are commercial in confidence.”
The New Daily has also contacted AstraZeneca and Health Minister Greg Hunt for comment.
Also on Thursday, Mr Hunt revealed the government had locked in the final details of an agreement for supplies of the UQ vaccine.
“The government has now entered a final supply agreement with CSL/Seqirus around the supply of 51 million doses of the University of Queensland (UQ)-CSL COVID-19 vaccine candidate, including key terms to support clinical and technical development activities for the vaccine candidate,” Mr Hunt said.
He said the UQ vaccine was due to enter phase IIb and III trials from early December, “in numerous countries and over more than 100 sites”.
Mr Hunt said the government was spending $1.7 billion to pre-order 84.8 million doses of the UQ vaccine from CSL, and the Oxford vaccine from AstraZeneca.