Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

Health Minister Mark Butler has ordered a fast-tracked review into existing vaccine deals and whether there needs to be any changes to current agreements to shore up Australia’s future supplies.

The inquiry will be led by senior public servant Jane Halton, who also oversaw the national review into hotel quarantine arrangements.

Mr Butler said the review would not act as a deeper inquiry into the previous government’s response to the pandemic, but would instead focus on providing advice to the government on what it should focus on in the next few years.

“There will be a time… for a proper inquiry into the country’s response to this pandemic, whether that’s a royal commission as was recommended by the Senate committee or some other very deep inquiry,” he said.

“It’s not about looking back and examining the rights and wrongs of the former government’s approach to negotiating these contracts in the first place.

“It’s about the now and the next 12 to 18 months.”

Portrait of Jane Halton
Jane Halton will lead the review.(Four Corners)

The Health Minister said the key elements of the review would be:

  • Taking stock of current vaccine contracts and supplies in the country
  • Looking forward and providing advice on likely developments in vaccines this year and into 2023
  • Providing advice about existing vaccine deals and arrangements and if there need to be any changes

Mr Butler said he made “no judgment” about the existing deals, and the focus was on making sure Australia could adapt to future developments of the disease and vaccines.

“I have no reason to think that [the vaccine deals] aren’t appropriate, but this is a fast-moving landscape, you know, “he said.

“We need to make sure we are agile here.”

The Health Minister said that while he had not set a deadline for the review, he had made clear there was a level of urgency to it.

“It’s obviously something we want conducted in weeks, not many months,” he said.

Mr Butler defended the decision to have the review done by Ms Halton and not the health department, saying he did not think it was out of the ordinary that the new government would want an independent opinion on deals done while it was in opposition.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Omar Khorshid said the organization welcomed the review, adding it was essential to make sure the best treatments, such as Omicron-specific vaccines, were made available as quickly as possible in the future.

“That’s absolutely critical, that as soon as the new vaccines that are coming online are [shown to be] safe and effective… that we have access to them, “he said.

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