Senate debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

COVID-19: Vaccine

3:27 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Health in the Senate (Senator Colbeck) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to COVID-19 vaccines.

Well, here we have the government acknowledging that mRNA vaccines are so important that they've gone out and bought another 10 million doses. Given that you need two doses to make it effective, that's enough for another five million people. But beyond the fact that yes, they're having a few discussions with some people around whether they will invest in manufacturing mRNA vaccine here in this country, they can't give me an answer. They can't tell me.

We're still in the pandemic. We know what's happening in Western Australia. We've just seen another case come up in Victoria. So, we know we have a long way to go before this pandemic is over and its impacts are no longer felt in this country. That's going to be a long time. Not only are mRNA vaccines proving to be highly effective, and certainly more effective than the AstraZeneca vaccine, but also they're going to be really important and will revolutionise drug manufacturing, so we're being told. So, it's in Australia's interests to manufacture those vaccines and develop the capacity here, because we are going to need those vaccines into the future. We also have a responsibility to make sure that our neighbours are getting the best vaccines they can get. A manufacturing capacity here would also assist our Pacific neighbours, whom the government say they are committed to assisting.

We need to establish this facility as soon as possible so that we have that capacity, and it needs to be publicly owned. We as a community need to be assured that this facility is publicly owned so that the government has the capacity to ensure that these vaccines will be manufactured here in Australia and available to Australians and as part of our global contribution.

I asked the minister particularly about the Pfizer vaccine and who will be able to get that, because all the government will say is that it's going to be available for the first phase of the rollout strategy, phase 1a, which is around 680,000 people or 1.4 million doses. They will get the Pfizer vaccine. That is, of course, essential, because they are the most vulnerable community members. But the government won't say who then gets the Pfizer vaccine, which is the most efficient and effective vaccine and the first vaccine that's going to be available in this country, when it eventually becomes available if they manage to meet their time lines and deal with export controls in Europe. Why won't the government say who else gets the Pfizer vaccine? We then have phase 1b, phase 2a et cetera—the five phases. Who gets this vaccine?

They're also saying the AstraZeneca vaccine is the one that will go out to remote communities. Since when has it been beyond the wit of Australia to be able to get important supplies out to Aboriginal communities? It should not be beyond our wit to get the Pfizer vaccine out to remote Aboriginal communities. We know our First Nations communities are some of the most vulnerable communities. They're very high up on the list in our phased approach to rolling out our vaccines. We should be committing to rolling out Pfizer vaccines to vulnerable First Nations communities, because we can do it. Australians pride themselves on their ingenuity. Why are we not rolling out the most effective vaccine to First Nations communities? I want to know—and so do other Australians—where the remainder of the first 10 million doses are going and then where the new allocation is going.

Question agreed to.