Centre's vaccine policy not unreasonable but no one can be forced to get vaccinated: Supreme Court
The top court said the current COVID-19 vaccine policy cannot be said to be manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday held that while the central government's current COVID-19 vaccine policy is not unreasonable, no individual can be forced to get jabbed. The order of the top court comes on a plea challenging the vaccine mandate in the country.
"....the government can regulate in areas of bodily autonomy on the basis of material, and considering expert views on severe disease, hospital admissions etc, this court is satisfied that current vaccine policy cannot be said to unreasonable... the infringement of bodily integrity and personal autonomy of indivuduals in respect to vaccine we are of the opinion that bodily integrity is protected by Article 21. Individuals cannot be forced to get vaccinated," a bench of the apex court said.
The petition filed by a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) Jacob Puliyel had also disclosure of post-vaccination data and clinical trial data. The plea had also sought a declaration that vaccine mandates, in any manner whatsoever, even by way of making it a precondition for accessing any benefits or services, is a violation of the rights of citizens.
The states had defended their vaccine policy saying that it is in the personal interest of people. The state of Tamil Nadu had explained the vaccine mandate in the state said that it satisfies larger public interest and is necessary for the safety of every person.
The government explained its stand on vaccination by saying that it is better to tread with caution and prevent harm to the public. It defended the same by referring to Tamil Nadu Public Health Act, 1939 which gives it the power to come out with such a circular.
The States of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had submitted that the decision to show vaccination proof fulfils the test of proportionality and is meant to create more awareness about vaccination. A bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice BR Gavai also heard arguments by vaccine manufacturers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech Limited against data disclosure.
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Serum Institute of India, the producer and marketer of the Covishield vaccine, had told the court that the necessary data is with the regulator. Bharat Biotech which manufactures Covaxin while denying allegations of non-disclosure of information said that the data relating to the phase III trial has been published.
The Centre had informed the top court on Monday that all documents related to Covid-19 vaccines and their compositions are available in the public domain, and the vaccine has proved to be very effective and safe.
The plea filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan also seeks to disclose the post-vaccination data regarding adverse events, people who got infected with Covid, those who needed hospitalisation and those who died after such infection post-vaccination and direct the respondents to widely publicise the data collection of such adverse event through the advertisement of toll-free telephone numbers where such complaints can be registered.
It has been submitted in the petitioner’s plea that "simply because vaccinations and permissions thereof deal with aspects of science does not mean they do not come under the purview of judicial review. Judicial Intervention in matters dealing with scientific procedures undertaken by domain expertise is not excluded".
"This should specifically be the case for vaccines for COVID-19 considering they are meant to be used in universal immunisation programmes and have been introduced in the clinical trial mode under emergency use authorisation. Information related to the same should be available for public and independent scientific scrutiny,' he said.