Whoops – the Medicines Act needs to be remedied (and fast) after judge finds problem with the govt’s Covid vaccination programme

Two ministerial speeches have been posted on the Beehive website since Point of Order’s previous check on what the government is up to.

Not that it posts everything there, of course, and wading through a speech by David Clark on the government’s role in the digital economy is the heavy price we must pay for bringing you the latest from the Beehive on this blog.

But there are nuggets of hard news, too.

For example, the Minister of  Health rushed off to change the law after a High Court judge said:

“It is reasonably arguable that the decision to provisionally approve the vaccine for much wider use is problematic … “

The problem – it seems – relates to the powers of section 23 of the Medicines Act.

But the judge declined to grant interim orders stopping the vaccine rollout on the grounds that the repercussions “are too great, by some very considerable margin”.

Whatever the legalities, another statement from the  Beehive brought news that the 5000th vaccinator completing specialised training to administer the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

And almost 2,000 vaccinators have been involved in immunising people since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout started nearly three months ago.

Great name for a movie to be made by our handsomely subsidised movie industry, we suggest.

“The Vaccinator” would feature a masked hero fighting the good fight against an evil and powerful virus that threatens to extinguish human life on this earth

Technical amendment to Medicines Act

The Government will be making “a technical amendment to modernise the law” in response to a High Court decision about processes to grant provisional consent to some approved medicines.

The Court said the Minister of Health can, under Section 23 of the Medicines Act, grant approval for Medsafe-approved medicines to be used by a limited number of patients, but it’s arguable whether it can be done for the whole population.

Little said the Government will deal with this by introducing a Bill today to make sure New Zealanders continue to have timely access to the medicines and treatments they need.

The Medicines Amendment Bill is expected to be passed under urgency.

Little noted that Section 23 has been used over 40 years by successive Governments to grant early access to approved therapeutic substances when it is in the public good.

But he also said the law has for some time has lacked clarity over how it can be applied and was planning to replace the Medicines Act with a new Therapeutic Products Act.

“Treatments approved under Section 23 go through a rigorous Medsafe approvals process. There are occasions when the health needs of a population call for urgent access to a medicine, vaccine or treatment and we need to keep this option available for some circumstances.

There are six products in use under Section 23, including two types of contraceptives, two pandemic flu vaccines, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and an electrolyte solution used in hospitals, potentially affected by the decision.

The Therapeutic Products Bill that will replace the outdated Medicines Act is expected to be introduced into Parliament next year.

COVID-19 milestone: 5000th vaccinator completes specialised training

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins issued a statement to recognise the 5000th vaccinator had completed specialised training to administer the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) started the training for the Pfizer vaccine in February and this week 5,358 vaccinators have completed the programme.

Almost 2,000 vaccinators have been involved in actively immunising people since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout started nearly three months ago.

“It’s important to remember that the most significant roll-out won’t begin until July when we start vaccinating the general public so we’re preparing our vaccination workforce with that timeline in mind,” Hipkins said.

COVID-19 fund benefits hundreds of thousands of learners

More than 2,000 schools, kura and early learning have been funded to help more than 300,000 New Zealand children and young people affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

More than $30 million from the Urgent Response Fund has been allocated between August and December 2020.

The list of schools, kura and early learning that have received funds “has been proactively released today”, he said.

Is a proactive release different from a release?

“The feedback I’ve received has been incredibly positive. Schools, kura and early learning services have seen improvements in the wellbeing and re-engagement in learning for the ākonga supported by the fund.

“Many have used the funding for additional teacher and teacher aide time to provide mentoring, academic catch-up and for engaging with whānau.

The Urgent Response Fund can be used for school, early learning service or cluster-wide activities to support attendance, re-engagement with learning and wellbeing, or for individual students or groups of young people. It is a one-year fund until June 2021.

Speech to Contact Energy event at Parliament

This speech was delivered by Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods at a function of celebrate Contact Energy’s new 580 million dollar geothermal power station to be built on the Tauhara field near Taupō.

Never mind the thought that it would be more appropriate (and save some money) to celebrate the completion of the project, which will result in a 152 megawatt power station operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from mid-2023.

It will help support New Zealand’s transition to a low carbon economy by displacing baseload fossil fuel generation from the national grid.

Woods congratulated Contact on its review of its thermal generation assets in New Zealand – 84 per cent of Contact’s generation is renewable today, and Contact is committed to further rapid decarbonisation of its generation.

Contact has current gas generation in Taranaki and Waikato, and diesel generation in Hawkes Bay (Whirinaki).

Contact’s investment in Tauhara geothermal is scheduled to come on stream in mid-2023.

Speech to the AI Summit

Digital Economy and Communications Minister David Clark, addressing the AI Forum of New Zealand, enthused about “the exciting work” he is doing “to propel this country into the future, and make it a leading digital nation”.

Parallel to this, as the Minister for Statistics, he said he was acutely aware about the transformative power of data, both for societal wellbeing and for economic growth.

He mentioned the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan, which falls under his Digital Economy portfolio, describing it as a key tool to help drive the growth of the digital technologies sector.

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