CSL’s non-appearance at Senate inquiry into Covid vaccines called ‘disrespectful’ | Health

CSL said it was too busy making 50 million Covid-19 vaccines for Australia to explain its role in AstraZeneca’s $1.7 billion supply deal to a federal parliamentary inquiry.

The biotech company was absent from the first hearing of the Covid-19 inquiry in 2021, prompting Independent Senator Rex Patrick to accuse it of disrespecting the Senate and behaving “inappropriately” in failing to submit to scrutiny.

At the start of the hearing, chairwoman Katy Gallagher said the company ‘decline’ to appear on Thursday despite the committee believing it was ‘essential to hear directly from them’ about their ‘vital role’ in vaccine deployment.

Gallagher filed correspondence from CSL in which the company stated that “the first quarter of 2021 is an extremely busy time for CSL in terms of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines and we are unable to fund attendance at this hearing. for the moment”.

When the committee sent a formal request for CSL to appear, it again replied that it was “currently fully focused on expediting manufacturing” of the vaccine and was “unavailable to appear at this time”.

“CSL employees have been working at pace since September … to prepare our facilities for large-scale manufacturing of this vaccine,” the biotech giant said. “CSL had to acquire specialized equipment and infrastructure, recruit, train and redeploy personnel, re-equip and reconfigure existing manufacturing facilities and move existing CSL products overseas in order to continue manufacturing these vital items. .

CSL said it hopes to deliver 1 million doses of the vaccine per week by the end of March. The company has offered to appear before the committee in mid to late April.

In September, the Australian government entered into supply agreements with CSL for the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the UQ vaccine, which was later discontinued.

Patrick told Guardian Australia whether the government had given a role in contracts worth $1.7 billion to “an organization that lacks the capacity to deal with administrative requests and respond to Senate committees — so it was given to the wrong party.”

“The company was disrespectful to the Senate and behaved inappropriately in my opinion – the directors of this company really need to rethink their approach to this type of request,” he said.

Guardian Australia understands the committee will aim to call CSL in February. Patrick publicly threatened a “subpoena” if they refused to appear again.

Patrick said he intended to grill CSL on his willingness to manufacture the vaccine, if he was on schedule, what were the terms of his contract and the amount of public funding he received to retool for work.

“Their responses [to the committee] do not make sense – which leads to the question: what do they have to hide? »

During the hearing, Department of Health Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy said Australia was paying “within a similar range” of the €1.78 cost per dose of AstraZeneca, a figure disclosed by a Belgian Minister on Twitter as the price paid by the European Union.

Murphy said there were “additional costs” to ensuring Australia could produce the vaccine on land, including the cost of paying CSL to modify its factory to produce the vaccine here.

Patrick said the government had “wisely” invested taxpayers’ money to create the capacity to produce vaccines in Australia. “We’ve invested Commonwealth money…so we have a right to find out what’s going on.”

A CSL spokeswoman said she “appreciated” the invitation to the Senate inquiry but was “unable to fund our participation at this time.”

“We will be in a better position to consider a similar invitation later in the year,” the company told Guardian Australia on Thursday.

Norman D. Briggs