COVID-19: Government to urgently change law after High Court ruling on Pfizer vaccine rollout legality

The Government is urgently introducing changes to fix an "out-of-date" law after a High Court ruling on the decision to grant provisional approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday the High Court ruled it "reasonably arguable" the limited-use provision granted for the vaccine rollout under section 23 of the Medicines Act was "problematic", as this was meant to encompass a limited number of patients, and arguably not the whole population. 

"While I acknowledge that this is a more 'limited' class of persons than 'all New Zealanders', a class of that size seems well beyond what is contemplated by a straightforward, purposive, reading of the section."

Health Minister Andrew Little acknowledged the ruling and said section 23 has been used for more than four decades by successive Governments - and it's time for a change.

"The law has for some time now, lacked clarity over how it can be applied," Little said.

 "We already knew the Medicines Act was out of date, which is why we were planning to replace it with a new Therapeutic Products Act."

This Act is expected to be introduced into Parliament in 2021 - in the meantime, an "urgent" amendment will be passed to fix the current outdated law, says Little.

"The Medicines Amendment Bill is expected to be passed under urgency tomorrow in order to protect New Zealanders early access to medicines when needed."

Six products are currently in use under section 23 including two types of contraceptive, two pandemic flu vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine and an electrolyte solution used by hospitals.