Nine Network host Karl Stefanovic accused Health Minister Greg Hunt of “dragging his feet” in a fiery morning TV exchange over Australia’s Pfizer supplies.
The Today host’s broadside came amid accusations the Morrison government bungled an opportunity to secure millions of Pfizer doses in 2020, after emails emerged on Wednesday showing the pharma giant was keen to ink a deal with Australia as early as June last year.
Labor, which obtained the emails under freedom of information, claims the delays set Australia’s COVID vaccination program back months.
The government has denied the claims and Mr Hunt continues to defend the five-month gap between Pfizer urging him to meet senior global bosses and Australia’s first contract for the company’s vaccines.
On Thursday, Mr Hunt also faced fierce questions from Stefanovic’s rival, David Koch, on Sunrise. Koch said the government had been “complacent”.
“You guys were too slow,” he said.
Mr Hunt said he took a “different view”.
“Australia is in a vastly different position to the rest of the world even with the challenges now, because we have been fighting,” he said.
Prompting this from Koch: “Yes, we’re locked down and everyone else is open.”
It was similar on Today, with Stefanovic asking Mr Hunt several times why he delayed meeting the Pfizer bosses.
“It looked to me like you were dragging your feet,” Stefanovic said.
“This is a company motivated – it says, ‘let’s move discussions quickly, we can deploy vaccines at unprecedented speed’.
“Pfizer wanted a timeline for vaccine rollout and they got nothing back.”
Mr Hunt said there was a meeting between senior international Pfizer representatives and the government’s vaccine taskforce chief on July 10, 2020.
“Come on. You should have taken a meeting,” Stefanovic said.
“If that’s not dragging your feet, I don’t know what is.”
Mr Hunt insisted the government was in contact with Pfizer throughout last year and the initial deal was made as quickly as possible.
“What we received was the earliest possible available and we received it in the quantities that they made available,” he said.
“That’s because, understandably, they were focusing on mass death in the countries where they were producing.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese believes the government emails show remarkable complacency.
“This is Scott Morrison’s lockdown. It is a direct consequence of a failure to secure supply,” he said in Sydney on Thursday.
Australia has fully vaccinated almost 40 per cent of its over-16 population while more than 64 per cent have received a single dose.
Mr Albanese said the nation was last in the developed world despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison promising last year that Australia was at the front of the queue.
“Other countries understood that it was a race to vaccinate their nations so as to avoid the lockdowns that half of Australia are enduring today.”
Victoria had 324 more infections on Thursday as Melbourne’s outbreak continues to grow despite a harsh lockdown.
NSW – where there were 1480 new cases on Wednesday – is expected to unveil its path to lift restrictions.
The ACT is also under stay-at-home orders.