Fact Check-Australian law categorises all medicines under various sub-sections of ‘poison’ – this is a legal definition and does not mean medicines are harmful

Updated to correct syntax

Posts online have raised concern over the use of the word “poison” in Western Australian legislation that has authorised the COVID-19 vaccine. However, poison is a generic legal term in Australia and does not mean the injection is dangerous, according to an expert speaking to Reuters.

Social media accounts have used screenshots of the authorisation to suggest COVID-19 vaccines are harmful (here and here), with one user writing: “A bit of validation if you’ve been called a ‘conspiracy theorist’ for saying the vax is poison, that’s what the WA state government is calling it...” (here).

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

A good example in English law is the word “assault”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines assault as “a violent attack” (here). However, the 1988 Criminal Justice Act ( makes the distinction between assault (any act with the intention to cause suffering) and battery (the application of unlawful force to another person). Assault therefore means something different in the 1988 Act than its typical English language definition.

In Western Australia, the COVID-19 vaccine was authorised under the 2016 Public Health Act, which allows “poisons” to be administered during a public health emergency (here). The legislation’s use of the word “poison” comes within the meaning defined in the 2014 Medicines and Poisons Act: “A substance that is a Schedule 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 poison” (here , page two).

The 2014 Act uses these schedules to categorise substances that interact with physiological functions of the body, referred to as “poisons”. This ranges from pharmacy medicines like paracetamol (schedule two) to banned substances like heroin (schedule nine).

COVID-19 vaccines are identified as schedule four poisons (here), meaning they are prescription-only medicines that should be administered only by trained professionals. For instance, you cannot buy a vaccine at a local shop and inject yourself.

“In sum: poison is a generic term that includes what the general public understands to be a poison, but extends to over-the-counter medicines and prescription medicines,” Dr Marco Rizzi, specialist in medical law at the University of Western Australia (here), told Reuters via email.

He added: “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 prescription.”


Missing context. Australian law refers to the COVID-19 vaccine as a poison, but this does not mean the jab is dangerous. Medical legislation in Australia describes all medicines as poisons, and ranges from paracetamol to heroin.

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