Prime Minister Scott Morrison has gone on the defensive over his government’s handling of vaccine negotiations with Pfizer, dismissing critics as “heroes of hindsight”.
Labor has accused the Morrison government of bungling 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.
The federal opposition, which obtained the emails under freedom of information, claims the delays set Australia’s COVID vaccination program back months.
The government has furiously denied the claims. Health Minister Greg Hunt has also defended the five-month gap between Pfizer urging him to meet its senior global bosses and Australia signing its first contract for 10 million of the company’s vaccines.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison said talks with the drugs giant began earlier than the emails obtained by Labor showed.
“I think there are a lot of heroes of hindsight at the moment out there,” he said.
“It was very clear from those discussions that the focus was not on Australia, the focus was on where people were dying in their thousands.”
The federal government has confirmed a meeting between senior international Pfizer representatives and the government’s vaccine taskforce chief on July 10, 2020. Mr Hunt did not attend the meeting.
Asked on Thursday if that was the right decision, Mr Morrison said:
“I’ll let others make those judgments, I’d simply say this. It was one of many engagements that we were having with vaccine companies around the world and they were happening with Pfizer at the time. To suggest they weren’t would be false.”
He echoed Mr Hunt’s earlier statement that Labor was trying to mislead the public about discussions between the federal government and Pfizer.
“There were many records of the engagement between the government and Pfizer at the time,” he said.
But he refused to reveal when he or Mr Hunt first met the company executives to arrange Pfizer doses for Australia.
“You would have to speak to the Health Minister,” he said, adding only that the government had made “every effort we could” to firm up more than the 10 millions doses agreed in its first deal with Pfizer.