News Coronavirus Labor to review former govt’s COVID vaccine contracts

Labor to review former govt’s COVID vaccine contracts

mark butler
The government has to ensure contracts are still fit for purpose, Health Minister Mark Butler says. Photo: AAP
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Australia’s pharmaceutical contracts will be reviewed to ensure the nation is well placed in relation to emerging coronavirus variants.

Former health department head Jane Halton will look into the contracts with pharmaceutical companies signed by the previous government.

The government wants the review conducted as a matter of urgency to respond to emerging COVID variants and give Australians access to the best health measures, Health Minister Mark Butler said.

“I make no judgment about the existing contracts. I have no reason to think that they’re not appropriate,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.

“But this is a fast-moving landscape, we need to make sure that we are agile … to ensure that arrangements that might have been fantastic three months ago are fit for purpose for the rest of this year and into next year.”

Key elements of the review will include a stocktake of vaccine and treatment supplies in Australia, possible virus developments and whether any changes need to be made to contracts inherited from the previous government.

While there is no deadline for the review, Mr Butler said he expected it to take weeks rather than months.

It came as Mr Butler also urged Australians to ensure their COVID vaccines were up to date, and warned of a “worrying” rise in virus hospitalisations.

“We still have a few thousand people in hospital across Australia with COVID. Hospitals that are also dealing with the pressure of influenza for the first time in a couple of years, as well as all the other conditions people have when they present at hospital. And we’re still seeing about 300 Australians lose their lives to COVID every week. This is still a very serious health challenge,” he said.

The jump is due to the Omicron BA.4 or BA.5 subvariants gradually taking over as the nation’s dominant COVID strains.

They accounted for 35 per cent of positive tests in NSW last week, while Victorian authorities say they make up 40 per cent of COVID detections in the state’s wastewater.

“There is no evidence yet of a difference in disease severity for those infected with BA.4 and BA.5, but there is evidence that they are better at evading the body’s immunity,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said.

“We all have a role to play in reducing the spread and burden of respiratory infections this winter and protecting our most vulnerable so I strongly encourage everyone to keep doing the little things that make a big difference, such as staying home when you are sick, washing your hands regularly and indoor mask-wearing.”