New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday upholding the current Covid-19 vaccination policy ruled that no one can be forced to take the vaccine, but stated that the government can impose some restrictions in the interest of the community. The apex court also directed the central government to publish reports on the adverse effects of vaccination.
A Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai delivered the judgement on the plea challenging mandatory Covid-19 vaccine mandates as unconstitutional, saying, “Bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution and nobody can be forced to be vaccinated, however, certain limitations on individual rights could be imposed in the interest of community health,” reported Bar and Bench.
“Barring Covid-appropriate behaviour, we suggest no curbs on unvaccinated individuals in access to public places, services and resources if cases are low,” the Supreme Court was quoted as saying by NDTV.
The Bench on the basis of available material and considering expert views on severe diseases, hospital admissions, etc., ruled that the current vaccine policy cannot be termed “unreasonable”.
The top court also said that the condition imposed by some state governments in restricting access of unvaccinated people to public places is arbitrary and should be recalled in the current situation.
While announcing the decision, the Supreme Court also directed the Centre to publish reports on adverse events of vaccines from people and doctors on a publicly accessible system, without compromising the details of the individuals reporting them.
“Regarding segregation of vaccine trial data, subject to the privacy of individuals, all trials already conducted and to be subsequently conducted, all data must be made available to the public without further delay,” the Bar and Bench quoted the Supreme Court Bench as saying.
The petition before the Supreme Court was filed by Jacob Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), who was seeking disclosure of clinical trial data and argued that the states mandating vaccination for accessing benefits or services is a violation of citizens’ rights, and therefore, unconstitutional.
The petition filed by Puliyel also alleged that the vaccines currently being administered have not been adequately tested for safety or efficacy are now licensed under emergency use authorisation (EUA) without the data being disclosed to the public. “In India, the manner in which the vaccines have been licensed vitiates and even precludes the possibility that the vaccines can be evaluated objectively in the future,” the petition stated.
Meanwhile, Bharat Biotech (manufacturer of Covaxin) and Serum Insitute of India (manufacturer of Covishield) had argued in court that all necessary data was provided to the regulator and that the petition was a manner to discredit the work.
The Centre had argued in court that the petition was “against national interest” and would create vaccine hesitancy among public. It also clarified that although vaccination is voluntary, states had enforced mandates “based on potential hazards”.
Meanwhile, states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh defended their vaccine mandates, calling them essential for the safety of every individual, especially those using public spaces and transport.