Judge rejects bid to halt tamariki vaccine rollout

By Contributor

By Hazel Osborne, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Pōneke

A High Court judge has declined a group of parents' bid to temporarily halt the Covid-19 vaccine rollout for kids.

Justice Rebecca Ellis released her decision this afternoon, saying that even if she had accepted the group's position or the case had serious merit, the adverse repercussions of pushing pause on the rollout for 5-11-year-olds count against a ruling in their favour.

Ellis referenced a large number of repercussions that had been outlined by health director generalDr Ashley Bloomfield.

These repercussions include denying those families who wish to have their children vaccinated the chance to do so, disruption to the lives of children who have already received their first dose, and the flow-on disruption to the everyday lives of children.

The judge also referenced the continued inequitable impact of Covid on Māori, Pacific communities and disabled people, and how halting the rollout would impede on the Crown's efforts to meet its obligations to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi.

"They confirm my already clear view that the application for interim orders should be declined."

The eight parents - whose names are currently suppressed - are suing the Government to urgently stop the vaccine rollout and say despite the judge's ruling, they are "committed to continuing their fight".

A spokesperson from the Hood NZ, a group in support of the parents, said they were disappointed but not surprised at today's decision.

"While we are concerned the Judge did not act in a precautionary way, by temporarily halting this rollout until the matter could be heard in full, our case remains compelling."

The group of parents includes an electrician, two stay-at-home parents, a service assistant, a quality assurance manager, a company director, a civil engineer and an unemployed woman. All have children aged between 5 and 11.

In an interim order hearing held at the High Court in Wellington last week, the group's lawyers argued for an immediate halt to the paediatric vaccine rollout.

They are seeking a judicial review on the basis that the provisional consent process for the children's vaccine was flawed and illegal.

The group wanted that consent to be revoked and were trying to get the rollout halted immediately until a full judicial review can be held. However, today's decision means children will continue to be vaccinated, regardless of the upcoming hearing.

Lead defence lawyer for the group Nick Williams and his team had argued that vaccinating children put "healthy" kids at risk.

The defence also said the parents were concerned vaccinations for children would lead to bullying, exclusion from activities and deny their sons and daughters childhood joys.

The Crown argued that the impacts of children aged 5-11 contracting Covid-19 had far more repercussions than the effects of the vaccine itself.

Crown prosecutor Kate Wevers said significant numbers of parents want to vaccinate their children and there was no good reason to deprive families of that right.

"They [the parents] are free to choose not to vaccinate their children and shouldn't be able to restrict others from the choice of vaccination themselves," said Wevers.

Since last week's hearing, nearly 50,000 kiwi kids have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. More than 169,000 children aged 5-11 have received their first dose in total to date.

The group's statement of claim was filed in the High Court on January 14 against Health Minister Andrew Little, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, and the head of Medsafe - three days before children became eligible for the vaccine in New Zealand.

The group argues four key claims in their case against the vaccine including that the impact of contracting Covid-19 is nil to negligible for children, the benefits of the vaccine do not outweigh the risks in healthy children, adverse events have been recorded globally and that the rollout should be halted.

Experts have previously told the Herald that while most children who get Covid have only mild or no symptoms, a few can get very sick. Covid infection has also left some children with other, serious complications, including multi-inflammatory syndrome and Long Covid.

Clinical trials found the Pfizer vaccine was both extremely safe for children and very effective at stopping them from suffering severe Covid symptoms.