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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4895


Senator XENOPHON (2:49 PM) —My question, of which I gave informal notice earlier today, is to Senator Ludwig, Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. My question relates to the lack of Commonwealth funding for a vaccine for swine flu, which has been developed by researchers at South Australia’s Flinders Medical Centre, Vaxine, which is totally synthetic and is suitable for use by the 300,000 Australians who are allergic to eggs and may experience adverse reactions to the CSL vaccine. Can the minister explain on what basis this company was overlooked by the Commonwealth government in favour of the CSL vaccine when the government committed to ordering 21 million doses of swine flu vaccine at a cost believed to be in the vicinity of $200 million?


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Xenophon for his question. What I can say on behalf of the minister for health is that the National Health and Medical Research Council recently did approve a total of $7 million in grants for 41 Australian medical research projects that will help to ensure that the Australian government’s response to the evolving threat of H1N1 is based on the most up-to-date information available. The grant recipients were chosen after robust, independent, international peer review of the applications to identify the critical projects that would best shed more light on H1N1. That is the basis on which the grants were provided. CSL did not receive any funding from the $7 million in NHMRC research grants. Grant recipients were required to have results by December 2009. Vaxine were unable to show the NHMRC, I am informed, that they would have their results by that time. The government has placed an order for 21 million doses of vaccine with CSL Ltd, which CSL has the capacity to produce. The United States has also placed an order with CSL for around 100 million doses of the vaccine.

Senator Xenophon has asked what the basis of the decision was. It appears that, in short, Vaxine were unable to show the NHMRC that they would be able to have a result by that time. That provided the basis upon which the decision was made by the National Health and Medical Research Council, as the appropriate place for such decisions to be made. (Time expired)


Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Did any pre-existing agreement with CSL have any role leading to the National Health and Medical Research Council’s decision to reject, apparently without explanation, the Flinders Medical Centre’s application for a relatively modest $950,000 to finalise the trials of this alternative vaccine?


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —As I indicated, the government placed an order for 21 million doses of vaccine with CSL Ltd. This order was made on the basis of deeds of agreement in place with CSL until 2010 for the supply of seasonal pre-pandemic and pandemic influenza vaccines. These deeds were initially signed in 2004, following an open tender procurement process conducted by the Department of Health and Ageing. The only information I have for Senator Xenophon in respect of the vaccine relates to the fact that CSL, I think it is helpful to understand, did not receive any funding from the $7 million NHMRC research grant. Vaxine, likewise, did not receive any money from the NHMRC on the basis that, as I have indicated, grant recipients were required to have results in by December 2009. (Time expired)


Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What contingencies have been put in place by the government in relation to ensuring the health of those 300,000 Australians who would be allergic to the CSL vaccine, given that it uses egg products? What alternatives are available? Will the Flinders Medical Centre’s application be revisited in light of that fact alone?


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I also indicate that the government has been acting decisively in respect of the disease. The disease is continuing to spread, consistent with expectations. It remains mild in most people but severe in some. Obviously, many people have contracted swine flu and some have become very ill, with Australia now recording 102 associated deaths. I take this opportunity to extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those people. I will take on notice the issues that Senator Xenophon has raised and ensure that the minister provides an answer at her earliest convenience in relation to some of the specific detail that was asked for.