How much has Jacinda Ardern lobbied Pfizer over vaccine supply?

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Jul 2021, 10:39AM
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

How much has Jacinda Ardern lobbied Pfizer over vaccine supply?

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Jul 2021, 10:39AM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken with Pfizer boss Dr Albert Bourla twice this year, including once last week following the delivery of a crucial shipment of Pfizer doses.

She has also contacted Anne Harris, Pfizer's Australia and New Zealand managing director, on February 28 this year, a spokesman for Ardern told the Herald.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has not spoken to anyone from Pfizer.

It comes as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces criticism for not having any meetings or phone calls with Bourla at all.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand have both been under pressure over the pace of their vaccine rollouts, and they have defended them in the context of both countries' relative success in eliminating Covid-19.

Morrison has said he has spoken to other senior representatives from Pfizer, but the absence of any meeting or phone call with Bourla was underlined after former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "personal conversation" with Bourla on June 30.

"Mr Rudd sought this meeting at the urging of senior Australian business leaders, who were deeply concerned by the government's failure to lobby Pfizer at its most senior levels as many other world leaders have over recent months," a spokesman for Rudd said.

Rudd spoke to Bourla as a private citizen, and had asked Morrison if he had wanted to pass on any message to Bourla to help accelerate the vaccine programme in Australia.

"Mr Morrison provided some advice and later thanked Mr Rudd for his letter summarising the conversation," the spokesman said.

"Mr Rudd would definitely not seek to associate himself with the Australian Government's botched vaccine procurement programme."

Bourla has been frank about the way world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, contact him personally to secure supplies.

In March, he said former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called him 30 times. Sixty per cent of Israel is fully vaccinated, after the country secured early supplies of the vaccine in exchange for population medical data so Pfizer can look at the potential rate for herd immunity.

The New Zealand Government has also faced criticism over its vaccine rollout, and Hipkins has conceded that expectations could have been better managed - especially for group 3 including those 65 and over.

The Government announced its first purchase agreement with Pfizer in October last year - for 1.5 million doses - subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and receiving Medsafe approval.

Medsafe approved Pfizer on February 3, and the vaccine rollout started later that month. As of last Wednesday, just over 500,000 people - about 10 per cent of the population - were fully vaccinated.

Ardern's only conversation with Harris was on February 28, and on March 8, Ardern announced the Government had secured an additional 8.5 million Pfizer doses.

"The Ministry of Health is now working with Pfizer on a delivery schedule for the new vaccine that ensures a smooth roll-out and a scaling-up of our vaccination programme as we start to immunise the general public from the middle of the year," Ardern said on March 8 at her post-Cabinet press conference.

Her first phone call with Bourla was two days later, on March 10, for 15 minutes - according to her ministerial diary.

She also spoke to Bourla on July 8, a few days after a crucial shipment of 150,000 doses of the vaccine had arrived in New Zealand earlier than expected. If it hadn't arrived, the rollout would have been forced to halt.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said that ministry officials are in constant contact with Pfizer about incoming shipments of the vaccine.

Hipkins' ministerial diary does not show any contact with Bourla, or anyone from Pfizer.

A spokesperson for Hipkins said: "Due to the importance the Government puts on our relationship with Pfizer, where it comes to any political conversations those are had by the Prime Minister. The Minister engages with Pfizer at an operational level through the Ministry of Health."

Hipkins has previously told the Herald that the Government has done all it can to procure as many doses of the Pfizer vaccine as quickly as possible.

"We paid a fair market price for the vaccines - and we are doing our bit through [global equity scheme] Covacs to make sure that we're not acting in a way that's unethical in terms of global supply of vaccines," he said at the start of July.

To just throw more money at Pfizer: "That would have been unethical, trying to effectively bribe our way to get more earlier. It's just not the way we operate as a Government."