Requests for information relating to the COVID-19 vaccination programme
A requester sought a broad range of clinical information provided to the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority (Medsafe) by the pharmaceutical companies that were developing the COVID-19 vaccine, including safety trial data.
The information provided by these pharmaceutical companies shows the data, research and science behind their particular vaccines. The requester also sought names of the members of the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group (VAG) and the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee (MAAC).
The Ministry of Health refused the requests for clinical information on the basis that releasing the information would be likely to ‘unreasonably prejudice’ the commercial position of the person who supplied the information, under section 9(2)(b)(ii) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). The Ministry refused the request for members’ names on the basis that withholding was necessary to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs (protection from improper pressure or harassment), under section 9(2)(g)(ii) of the OIA. The requester complained to the Chief Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman formed the final opinion that section 9(2)(ba)(ii) applied to the requests for clinical data and section 9(2)(g)(ii) applied to the request for names of the experts for the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group and the Medicines Assessment Advisory Committee at the time the original decisions were made on these requests.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.
 Medsafe is a business unit of the Ministry of Health. The pharmaceutical companies provided the information to Medsafe as part of an application for their vaccines to be approved for use in New Zealand.
 The COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group is comprised of experts in a range of relevant fields who advise Medsafe on specific questions raised during the COVID-19 vaccine application evaluations.
 The MAAC comprises of up to 12 members with specialised experience. It provides independent expert advice to the Minister on the risks-benefits of new medicines (not just for the COVID-19 vaccines).