Fact Check-Australian law classifies all drugs in various subsections of “poison” – this is a legal definition and does not mean the drugs are harmful

Update to correct the syntax

Online posts have raised concerns over the use of the word ‘poison’ in Western Australian legislation that authorized the COVID-19 vaccine. However, poison is a generic legal term in Australia and does not mean injecting is dangerous, according to an expert speaking to Reuters.

Social media accounts used screenshots of the authorization to suggest COVID-19 vaccines are harmful (here and here), with one user writing: “A little validation if you’ve been called a ‘theorist of the conspiracy “for saying that vax is poison, as the Washington state government calls it …” (here).

However, poison can also refer to normal drugs in Australian law. Legal documents often use and define words with specific and contextual meanings.

A good example in English law is the word “aggression”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines assault as “a violent attack” (here). However, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (bit.ly/3o3A4UY) distinguishes between assault (any act with intent to cause pain) and bodily harm (applying unlawful force to another person). ). Assault therefore means something different in the 1988 law than its typical definition in English.

In Western Australia, the COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized under the Public Health Act of 2016, which allows the administration of “poisons” during a public health emergency (here). The use of the word “poison” in the legislation has the meaning defined in the Medicines and Poisons Act 2014: “A substance which is a schedule poison 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 ”(here, page two).

The 2014 law uses these annexes to categorize substances that interact with the physiological functions of the body, called “poisons”. This ranges from pharmacy drugs like paracetamol (schedule two) to banned substances like heroin (schedule nine).

COVID-19 vaccines are identified as Table Four poisons (here), which means they are prescription-only drugs that should only be administered by trained professionals. For example, you cannot buy a vaccine from a local store and inject yourself.

“In summary: poison is an umbrella term that includes what the general public considers poison, but extends to over-the-counter and prescription drugs,” Dr. Marco Rizzi, specialist in medical law at the University from Western Australia (here), told Reuters via email.

He added: “Defining the COVID-19 vaccine as ‘poison’ does not mean Australian governments consider it ‘dangerous’; at least no more dangerous than any other prescription drug.


Missing context. Australian law qualifies the COVID-19 vaccine as poisonous, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine is dangerous. Australian medical law describes all drugs as poisons and ranges from paracetamol to heroin.

This article was produced by the Reuters fact-checking team. Learn more about our fact-checking work here.

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