COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Members in attendance: Senators Antic, Canavan, Grogan, Hanson, O’Sullivan, Payman, Rennick, Roberts and Sheldon
Terms of Reference for the Inquiry:
To inquire into and report on:
COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2022
Fair Work Amendment (Prohibiting COVID-19 Vaccine Discrimination) Bill 2023
These hearings have been the subject of worldwide news and and so we bring you these edited highlights. For those who have followed it, they mark an historic turning point in the debate.
This is the opening salvo from Queensland Senator Matt Canavan. There were two representatives from Pfizer.
HEWITT, Dr Brian, Head of Regulatory Sciences, Pfizer Australia [by video link]
THIRU, Dr Krishan, Country Medical Director, Pfizer Australia [by video link]
Chair NSW Senator Tony Sheldon
I now declare open this hearing of the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee into COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2022 and the Fair Work Amendment (Prohibiting COVID-19 Vaccine Discrimination) Bill 2023.
These are public proceedings being video streamed live via the parliament’s website, and a Hansard transcript is being made.
I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee.
I now welcome representatives from Pfizer Australia via video conference.
Pfizer: Dr Krishan Thiru
Thank you, Chair. Pfizer thanks the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment for
the opportunity to appear at the hearing today. As has been communicated to the committee previously, Pfizer believes the debate on the prevention of discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccination status, which is at the core of both the bills that are subject to inquiry by this committee, is a policy matter for government.
However, with our recent experience developing, manufacturing and supplying a COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer is happy to share details of this experience.
With approximately 80,000 employees globally and one of the most sophisticated supply chains systems in the industry, Pfizer is one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world. Pfizer is proud to have had operations in Australia since 1956.
Pfizer is a proven, reliable, multinational vaccine producer, supplying vaccines that prevent a multitude of diseases and infections to 175 countries even prior to the pandemic, when we manufactured more than 200 million doses of Pfizer vaccines annually.
As of 4 June 2023, we have delivered more than 4.6 billion COVID-19 vaccine dozes to 181 countries
and territories in every region of the world. These numbers represent real people around the world who are helped by what Pfizer scientists developed and brought to patients.
Pfizer has confidence in the safety of our vaccine. Given the urgent public health need to develop a vaccine in a safe and responsible way, we collaborated closely with independent regulatory and health authorities around the world to conduct key activities in parallel to allow us to significantly accelerate the vaccine development without compromising safety.
Pfizer is proud of its collaboration we’ve had with the Australian government.
Senator Matt Canavan
Thank you, gentlemen, for appearing today and your evidence. Did Pfizer test whether your COVID-19 vaccine could stop or reduce the transmission of the virus before its approval and rollout in late
Dr Thiru: To bring this vaccine to patients, we were required to show that the vaccine was safe and effective in preventing illness, in preventing severe disease and in preventing hospitalisations. The primary purpose of vaccination was, and remains, to protect the person who received the vaccine.
Senator CANAVAN: I will repeat the question. I appreciate that. There hasn’t been an answer to it. I might
add into the record that on 3 December 2020, your CEO, Mr Albert Bourla, when asked whether vaccinated
people could carry and spread the virus, responded to NBC News: “I think this is something that needs to be examined. We are not certain about that right now.”
Was Mr Bourla correct that, as of 3 December 2020, Pfizer did not know whether the vaccine could stop or reduce the spread of the virus?
Dr Thiru: Senator, as with all vaccines seeking regulatory authorisation, the requirement is to demonstrate in robust clinical programs that the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing the infection and, in this case, preventing severe disease and hospitalisation.
Senator CANAVAN: Sorry to interrupt, but is it a yes or no? Did you test whether transmission would be reduced or stopped before the approval of the vaccine?
Dr Thiru: Senator, we designed our clinical programs in agreement with regulatory agencies, the purpose of which was to demonstrate the vaccine was safe and effective in preventing infections.
On Stopping Transmission
Senator CANAVAN: We might move on to another topic. On 14 January 2021, just six weeks after Mr
Bourla’s statement to NBC News, the official Pfizer Twitter account tweeted: “The ability to vaccinate at speed to gain herd immunity and stop transmission is our highest priority.”
What evidence did Pfizer have to make that public statement to imply that vaccination could stop transmission?
Dr Thiru: I’m not familiar with the context or the details of those comments. Let me just say that the primary purpose of vaccination, the approved product label and the regulatory approvals in Australia and around the world were to prevent infection, prevent severe disease and prevent hospitalisation. That was the evidence that was evaluated by regulatory agencies and by health authorities. That was the strong, robust clinical evidence that led to the approvals that were received in Australia and in many other countries.
Senator CANAVAN: So on 8 June 2021, the Pfizer CEO, Mr Albert Bourla, tweeted: “Vaccination is a critical tool to help stop transmission.”
What evidence did Mr Bourla have by that stage, 8 June 2021, that vaccination could stop transmission?
Dr Thiru: Senator, it has been very clearly demonstrated that the robust efficacy of Pfizer’s COVID-19
vaccine has been a centrally important tool in enabling societies to open up international borders, to reduce—
Senator CANAVAN: I’m asking for the evidence. What is the evidence? Can you point me to a study that an independent scientist has done to give grounds for Mr Bourla’s statement that your vaccine stopped transmission?
Dr Thiru: Senator, I’m not familiar with the context of that statement. We’ve complied and worked very
closely with the regulatory agencies around the world to probe the evidence that they required to approve this vaccine to prevent infection and severe disease and hospitalisations.
A Critical Tool
Senator CANAVAN: Thank you. Do you still believe that your COVID vaccine is a critical tool to help stop
Dr Thiru: Absolutely. It’s a critical tool in preventing, as I said earlier, infections, severe disease and
Senator CANAVAN: That wasn’t my question. Is your view that your vaccine is a critical tool to help stop transmission?
Dr Thiru: Pfizer’s view is that the vaccine is a critical tool in protecting the health of individuals who are
vaccinated and enabling society to operate normally as it is at the moment.
Senator CANAVAN: Okay. I’m taking from that you don’t think it’s a critical tool to help stop transmission.
You haven’t repeated Mr Bourla’s statement today under oath, so it doesn’t sound like you’re that confident in it. What I’m concerned about here is that you have a statement from your CEO that obviously has huge weight for governments around the world on their regulatory settings, saying that the COVID vaccine could stop transmission or was a critical tool to help stop transmission.
Can you point me to any statements made by Pfizer officials—the Pfizer CEO, anything—that has somewhat moved away from that very strong statement of Mr Bourla in June 2021 that it is a critical tool to help stop transmission? Have you clarified the record since that time?
Dr Thiru: I am very confident that the evidence we have presented to regulatory agencies still stands and
clearly demonstrates that the vaccine is safe and effective for its intended use.
And In Conclusion
Senator CANAVAN: I’ll finish with this. My point here is that, by late 2021 in this country, the Australian
government and state governments imposed vaccine mandates on their own employees and required other employers to impose them on their employees.
They definitely did that in part based on the evidence and advice from organisations like yours and the statements of Mr Bourla. We were constantly told by our leaders that your vaccine was necessary to stop the spread. I have pages and pages of quotes from those leaders saying that the vaccine would stop the spread. You have seen those statements. You are the head of regulatory services. You would have seen those statements.
Is there any statement from Pfizer that clarified Mr Bourla’s statement from June 2021 that responded to the very strong statements from premiers about your product? If not, what you are doing is effectively only reporting the good news that you have about your vaccine and not clarifying where there may be a shortcoming from your product that has led thousands of Australians to lose their jobs. And their livelihoods.
Why hasn’t Pfizer clarified the record on transmission when governments have used that to mandate your product and provide you with billions of dollars of profits around the world by doing so?