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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hosed down suggestions his government did not take Covid-19 seriously and dealings with Pfizer were not treated with a matter of urgency.
Emails between Pfizer and the health department were laid bare on Wednesday and create a timeline illustrating what some are suggesting shows complacency from the Morrison government in obtaining vaccines.
They detail a meeting on June 30, which Health Minister Greg Hunt did not attend, before Pfizer weeks later said it wanted to “move as quickly as possible”. Pfizer made it clear it had made deals with the US and UK before reps from Mr Hunt’s office attended a meeting.
Australia purchased 10 million jabs in November and the PM said “every effort” was made to obtain more.
Mr Morrison said there are “a lot of heroes of hindsight” in those criticising how the government dealt with Pfizer and quashed suggestions a lack of action had moved Australia to the back of the queue.
“When you actually look at the achievements of the program and the challenges that we faced and how we've overcome them, and where we are now and more importantly where we're getting to, then the way we've been able to proceed with the program has put us in a place right now where I think Australians can look forward to the balance of the year a lot more optimistically,” the PM said.
“Now, on the issue of our engagement with Pfizer, yes, those engagements had started before then. And those discussions were already underway but 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, tens of thousands, in the Northern Hemisphere. And it was very clear to us that what we would have to do is ensure that we had a home manufactured vaccine.”
The home manufactured vaccine Mr Morrison is referring to is AstraZeneca. He added manufacturing it in Australia meant the country would “not be reliant on what would be very uncertain supplies from overseas”.
“Had we not done that, then you would have seen the vaccination rates in Australia half what they are today,” he said.
As of Wednesday, more than 64 per cent of Australians over 16 have had one dose of vaccine while nearly 40 per cent over 16 have had two.
NSW also released its road map out of lockdown with Premier Gladys Berejiklian declaring pubs, gyms and non-essential retail will re-open to fully vaccinated residents once the state has 70 per cent fully vaccinated.
Still, the rollout has not been without its problems. There has been mixed messaging over the safety of AstraZeneca for younger Australians which led many to holdout for Pfizer.
There remain a small group of Australians who do not wish to be vaccinated at all for a variety of reasons.
Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews said it appeared Pfizer was throwing itself at the government last year.
"Wouldn't it have been better if we'd all been vaccinated 80 per cent double dose back in March?" he said.
"There'd be no lockdown now, there'd be no businesses failing. We'd be back to normal."
ACT Labor Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was frustrating to learn the rollout could have started earlier.
Mr Hunt insists he made formal contact with Pfizer in May last year.
"There were no early doses available to Australia. That's been made clear by Pfizer," he told 6PR radio.
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