People visit a Covid-19 mass vaccination centre in Melbourne on April 21, 2021. (AFP / Luis Ascui)

Australian government document misrepresented in posts about Covid-19 vaccines

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An Australian government document about Covid-19 vaccines that includes the word "poison" has been shared multiple times on Instagram and Facebook. The posts claim the document shows coronavirus jabs are dangerous. This is misleading: experts told AFP “poison” is a generic term used in Australian law to refer to all pharmaceutical substances and is not synonymous with "dangerous". The Covid-19 vaccines administered in Australia -- AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech -- have been certified safe by Australia's medicine regulator and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The government document was shared in this video. It was posted on Instagram on June 7, 2021. 

The video’s caption states: “Am I taking crazy pills??? Or does the WA gov website say what it says it says??? Authorisation to administer poison”.

A screenshot of the misleading post taken on June 8, 2021.

The video shows a screenshot of the Western Australian government's website.

The screenshot reads: "Public Health Act 2016 (WA) – Instrument of Authorisation – Authorisation to Supply or Administer a Poison [SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) VACCINE – Australian Defence Force] (No.2) 2021."

A man can be heard saying in the video: "What the hell is going on folks? Are you guys seeing this? Am I taking crazy pills? This is on the government website.

"Health instrument of authorisation to supply or administer a poison."

As of June 7, 2021, Australia had administered about 5.2 million coronavirus jabs, but only a small fraction of people were fully vaccinated, AFP reported.

As of June 14, 2021, the Australian government had approved two Covid-19 vaccines -- AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech -- to be administered nationally.

They were both approved as safe to use by the Australian medicine regulator -- the Therapeutic Goods Administration -- as well as the WHO. 

The government document was also shared alongside a similar claim in Facebook posts here and here.

Comments on the posts indicated some people were misled by the video.

“I can't believe the Govt knows it's poison and still pushing these vaccines,” one social media user wrote.

The posts are misleading: the term “poison” is a generic legal term for pharmaceutical substances, experts told AFP.

Government website

The government document shown in the video was originally published on the Western Australian government's website here, as shown in the screenshot below:

A screenshot of the Western Australia government website

Experts told AFP that the term "poison" on the government web page refers to all pharmaceutical substances and does not indicate that Covid-19 vaccines are dangerous. 

Dr Marco Rizzi, a senior lecturer at University of Western Australia Law School, told AFP on June 9, 2021: “Defining the Covid-19 vaccine as a "poison" does not mean the Australian governments consider it "dangerous"; at least no more dangerous than any other medicine that requires a prescription".

Dr Anna Bunn, a senior lecturer at the Curtin University Law School, told AFP on June 11, 2021: “Basically any medicine and pharmaceutical is a "poison" in Australian law. When something is classified as a "poison", it’s referring to a substance that's capable of having some kind of physiological effect on a person".

Generic term

AFP found the term “poison” has been widely used in a similar way in multiple government documents in Australia.

The state of Western Australia’s regulatory legislation is titled: “Medicines and Poisons Act 2014”.

The law uses the term “poison” to describe pharmaceutical substances that range from over-the-counter medicines to prohibited drugs.

The TGA provides an introduction to Australia's “Poisons Standard” here.