HC orders deferring MR vaccine campaign in Delhi after parents’ objection
The Delhi High Court on Tuesday deferred the implementation of the ‘Measles and Rubella vaccine immunisation campaign’ (MR campaign) by the Delhi government stating that vaccination cannot be administered “forcibly” and without the consent of parents.
The vaccination drive, which was to start Wednesday, would cover more than 55.5 lakh children — between the ages of 9 months and 15 years — within five weeks.
“For now, we have deferred the vaccination campaign till the next hearing scheduled on January 21. We are studying the order and looking at how to seek consent,” said Dr Nutan Mundeja, Delhi’s director general of health services.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru said that the petitioner’s contention that giving the vaccines without the consent of the parents is “merited”, adding that consent is the precondition for vaccinations.
The court’s order came while hearing pleas by parents of a few minor students at city’s schools alleging that the MR campaign is a “violation of the fundamental rights” of the students as consent had not been taken from their wards.
Appearing for the Delhi government, its standing counsel, Ramesh Singh, submitted that an “opt out” option could be created for the parents who do not want their wards to get the vaccination, which was objected to by the petitioners.
“Since it is apparent that the consent of the parents is not obtained and respondent are proceeded on the basis that the consent is not necessary, the campaign for administering the MR campaign is deferred till further orders from the court,” the court said.
At least 220 million children from 30 states and union territories have already been vaccinated under the nationwide campaign that started in 2017.
“The campaign in Delhi, as in the other states, was based on implied consent. In case of public health programmes, consent is said to be implied unless a person wants to opt out. People can refuse the vaccine, of course, we will not be forcing anybody,” said Dr Suresh Seth, Delhi’s state programme officer for immunisation.
The campaign is also underway in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, with only three more states — West Bengal, Sikkim, and Rajasthan — remaining to be covered.
“This is a unique situation; so far, none of the other states have had a petition filed against the campaign, except for Kerala where too the court quashed it,” said Dr Pankaj Bhatnagar of the World Health Organisation’s National Polio Surveillance Programme, which is responsible for observing the coverage of the MR vaccine as well.
The plea filed by the students, through advocate Abhinav Mukherjee, had alleged that the Centre had mentioned that the vaccine would not be administered without informed consent of parents. However, the Delhi government issued directions to compulsorily inject children in the age group of nine months to less than 15 years, with an admittedly “new vaccine”, called the MR vaccine (to prevent disease of measles and rubella) and without taking into account the past vaccination history of the child, where in the child has already been vaccinated for the said diseases.
The petition had sought restraining the government from forcibly administering the vaccination in the children.
Measles affects an estimated 2.5 million children every year, killing nearly 49 thousand.
It is a leading cause of death in children with one-third of all measles death worldwide happening in India. Rubella causes birth defects such as irreversible deafness and blindness in nearly 40 thousand children every year in India.