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'Paying the price’: Qld says feds ignored vaccine warning six years ago

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As health minister, Cameron Dick called for a sovereign vaccine manufacturing plant but says he was mocked by the Federal Government.

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Dick said that when he held the portfolio six years ago, a shortage of flu and whooping cough vaccines prompted his call for Australia to become less reliance on imports.

However, the Coalition government in Canberra, and then federal health minister Sussan Ley, were not interested in making Australia more self-sufficient.

“They laughed in my face,” Dick said today.

“And Australians are now paying the price.”

It is one in a series of decisions that, with the benefit of hindsight, undermined any effort to prepare Australia for a pandemic like the one brought by COVID-19. National Cabinet is today discussing the latest setbacks with the local vaccination rollout, and whether Australia is still in a position to help its hard-hit neighbour, Papua New Guinea.

The formerly government-owned CSL continues to produce AstraZeneca vaccines, despite a slow start and the advice overnight that they will be in less demand. Pfizer vaccines, now preferred for under-50s, are already being rationed as the Commonwealth pressures the multi-national company to release more doses and sooner.

Several years after Dick’s call was rejected, the Federal Government briefly floated the option of a sovereign vaccine manufacturing and research facility. That was three years ago, but nothing eventuated, and the move was regarded by some in the sector as simply a negotiating tactic for a new supply agreement with Melbourne-based CSL.

At the same time, a rush on flu vaccines, after a bad season in 2017, exposed problems in domestic vaccine supply and distribution, confused public messaging, and led to vulnerable people missing out. The Federal Government was explicitly warned that if Australia could not manage a normal flu season it was seriously underprepared for a pandemic.

After COVID-19 hit, the Federal Government moved to upgrade its vaccination and infectious diseases surveillance, and brought in consultants to oversee the vaccine supply chain, which will soon be subject to greater transparency. Local vaccine manufacturing capacity remains a live issue but would have been more pressing had the University of Queensland not withdrawn its candidate.

The Translational Research Institute at Woolloongabba has plans to build a $60 million manufacturing facility and recently won a ministerial infrastructure designation to smooth the way for the project.

Queensland recorded one new case of COVID-19 overnight, in an overseas traveller detected in hotel quarantine. There are now 63 active cases in the state.

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