SC directs review of vaccine mandates, say nobody can be forced to be vaccinated

ByAbraham Thomas
May 02, 2022 12:41 PM IST

Jacob Pulayil, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, moved the court against the vaccine mandates restricting access of unvaccinated people

NEW DELHI: Nobody can be forced to be vaccinated, the Supreme Court said on Monday and directed public and private institutions to review their vaccine mandates restricting unvaccinated people. “No individual can be forced to be vaccinated. Bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution,” said a bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai

The Supreme Court. (HT PHOTO)
The Supreme Court. (HT PHOTO)

Jacob Pulayil, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, moved the court against the vaccine mandates restricting access of unvaccinated people to public places, services and essential commodities. He also sought disclosure of vaccine trial data findings and adverse effects of vaccination. Pulayil claimed that without knowing the efficacy of the vaccines, citizens, especially children, cannot be vaccinated.

The court said the vaccine mandates were “not proportional”. “We suggest that all authorities, including private and educational authorities, should review the orders to restrict unvaccinated persons if not already recalled.”

The court clarified its order is restricted to Pulayil’s petition and does not cover mandates for Covid-appropriate behaviour. It added the direction will not stop governments from issuing directions for control of the pandemic.

The court said no data has been provided by the Centre to controvert the material placed by the petitioner, which indicates the risk of transmission by the unvaccinated is at par with the vaccinated. It upheld the vaccination policy rolled out by the Centre for the public including children. The court said an individual has the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment. “ the interest of protection of communitarian health, certain restrictions can be imposed on individual rights. However, it has to meet the three-fold test as laid down by us in the K Puttuswamy case [2017] on right to privacy which includes legality...legitimate state aim and proportionality.”

The bench cited the material placed before the court and said the vaccination policy cannot be said to be unreasonable. It referred to the vaccination for children and added: “We cannot second guess the opinion of experts as the vaccination follows the global practices.”

The court directed the Centre to maintain transparency in sharing findings and reports on approved vaccines. It suggested a virtual platform for sharing information on adverse effects due to vaccination with due regard to the right to privacy.

The bench said information on adverse effects is crucial to understanding the efficacy of vaccines. “...publish reports on adverse events of vaccines from public and doctors on a publicly accessible system without compromising with the privacy of citizens,” said the bench. It referred to the segregation of vaccine trial data and added subject to the privacy of individuals, the data of all trials conducted and being conducted must be made available to the public without delay.

The court directed the Centre that all clinical trials, key findings and results of vaccines approved for children be made public.

The petitioner asked the government and the Drug Controller General of India to provide segregated data for each of the phases of clinical trials of the vaccines administered in India. The court also heard the vaccine manufacturers – Covaxin’s Bharat Biotech and Covishield’s Serum Institute of India (SII) – before reserving its order in March.

The petition quoted the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration of 2013 on Ethical Principles for Medical Research involving human subjects, which mandates researchers to publicly disclose all negative, inconclusive and positive results of their research.

The Centre, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh defended their vaccine mandates saying they fulfil the test of proportionality and are meant to create more awareness about vaccination.

SII told the court that all necessary data was with the regulator. Bharat Biotech denied allegations of non-disclosure of information and said the data related to the phase III trial has been published.

The Centre told the court all documents related to Covid-19 vaccines and their compositions are available in the public domain, and the vaccines has proved to be very effective and safe.

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