‘Heavy-handed’: Prime Minister backs Port Melbourne pub’s free beer for jab promotion

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed a Port Melbourne pub that was told to stop offering free beers to customers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Australia’s health watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), contacted the Prince Alfred hotel earlier this week and ordered the venue to stop handing out free pints. The drug regulator’s website says businesses cannot offer alcohol, tobacco or medicines as incentives to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

Publican Tom Streater from the Prince Alfred hotel in Port Melbourne was reprimanded by the Therapeutic Goods Administration this week for handing out free beers to vaccinated customers.Credit:Scott McNaughton

On Friday morning, Mr Morrison said the crackdown was “a bit heavy-handed”.

He added that he and Health Minister Greg Hunt would speak to the TGA and ask them to back down in this particular instance.

“The rules are that for important reasons so drug companies can’t offer [inducements] to people,” Mr Morrison said.

“It is a sensible rule, but in these circumstances, the national interest is to get vaccinated. So the Prince Alfred down in Melbourne, good on you for getting behind it. We’ll get it sorted, common sense will prevail. Cheers to the PA.”

Tom Streater, the publican of the Prince Alfred hotel in Port Melbourne, told The Age and The Herald on Thursday that the TGA had reprimanded him for giving vaccinated customers a free pint.

“We are going to have to discontinue the free booze incentive,” Mr Streater said.

The Australian health watchdog has a vastly different stance on alcoholic inducements to the US, where President Joe Biden praised an initiative by beverage manufacturer Anheuser-Busch to give Americans free beer if the country achieved a goal of 70 per cent of adults having at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by July 4.

“That’s right: Get a shot, have a beer,” the teetotal president said. “We need everyone across the country to pull together to get us over the finish line.”

Mr Streater said the idea to hand out a free pint, wine or rum and Coke came to him after watching pub regulars queue for their vaccinations at a nearby pop-up clinic at Port Melbourne Town Hall.

“I thought a few free beers is way cheaper than a few more months in takeaway mode during another lockdown,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to bear the costs of shutting down again.”

He said a few dozen people presented their vaccination cards to staff in order to get a free drink during the week-long promotion, which ended on Sunday and was set to be rerun when the pop-up vaccination clinic returned later this month. “They had their freebies and then sat there for another hour and had lunch or another drink,” he said.

The scolding from the watchdog has not deterred Mr Streater from offering rewards to vaccinated customers. He will soon offer a food discount in a bid to encourage more people to get the jab.

Mr Streater said he was surprised more Australian businesses weren’t offering incentives to people who had been vaccinated.

Some Australian businesses have been inundated with scathing online comments from anti-vaxxers after promoting incentives to get vaccinated.

In May, the Stomping Ground Brewery in Collingwood axed its “pot for jab” promotion due to negative commentary from anti-vaxxers on social media.

It had planned to give vaccinated people a free beverage at a beer festival, which was being held alongside a major vaccination hub at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Uber and travel company Luxury Escapes are among the larger companies that have unveiled incentives to encourage people to get the COVID-19 jab.

Earlier this year Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline would reward vaccinated passengers with discounts, flight vouchers and frequent flyer points. He revealed that 10 vaccinated people would receive free flights for a year as part of a rewards program set to start this month.

The use of incentives to boost vaccination rates has boomed in the US, where states are offering daily lotteries of cash prizes. Up to $5 million is up for grabs for New Yorkers who get vaccinated at state-run clinics.

A TGA spokesman said the watchdog had received five complaints in relation to businesses offering a reward as part of promoting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The TGA undertakes compliance activities consistent with its regulatory framework which includes engaging with businesses to make them aware of their obligations in relation to advertising of therapeutic goods,” he said.

The spokesman said businesses were unable to offer alcohol as a reward for being vaccinated because of its potential to cause harm.

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