Supreme Court reserves verdict on vaccine mandates

On the argument by the petitioner that the vaccine should not be mandatory, Justice Rao noted the large number of deaths that occurred in the country owing to the Coronavirus

FPJ BureauUpdated: Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 08:33 AM IST
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict in a plea seeking disclosure of clinical data of COVID vaccines and a declaration that making vaccination mandatory is unconstitutional, reports Bar and Bench.

A Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai concluded the hearing on the plea after hearing the States, Central government and petitioner’s counsel, advocate Prashant Bhushan.

On the argument by the petitioner that the vaccine should not be mandatory, Justice Rao noted the large number of deaths that occurred in the country owing to the Coronavirus.

“Over 5 lakh deaths have occurred, is this not a lethal disease? It might not be like small pox but so many people have died,” he said.

Bhushan said that the disease is lethal only for unhealthy people but the side effects of vaccine are still unfolding.

“For a healthy person it is not lethal and lethal only for an unhealthy person. They have issued a mandate which is clearly disproportionate. These are experimental vaccines and the long term effects are still unfolding,” he said.

The petition by Dr Jacob Puliyel, former member of the National Technical Advisory Group, prayed for declaration that mandating vaccination for COVID, in any manner whatsoever, even by way of making it a precondition for accessing any benefits or services, is a violation of rights of citizens and unconstitutional.

The plea also alleged that the vaccines currently being administered have not been adequately tested for safety or efficacy are now licensed under emergency use authorisation 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 had stated.

The petitioner and handful of others like him would be enabled to create serious misgivings and misconceived doubts against the vaccination, it was argued.

Earlier at the hearing, Tamil Nadu Additional Advocate General Amit Anand Tiwari had said that the State has the power to issue vaccine mandates under the National Disaster Management Act.

The counsel cited unvaccinated people as the reason for vaccine mutation and added the mandates are precautionary in nature as the unvaccinated pose serious health and economic risks.

Maharashtra Additional Advocate General Rahul Chitnis pointed out that in local train travel, social distancing is not possible and vaccine mandates are thus necessary in public transport.

Advocate Guru Krishna Kumar for Bharat Biotech, the makers of Covaxin, submitted that the allegation of Phase III trial data not being published was incorrect. “This is an attempt to release a cat among the pigeons,” the counsel argued.

Counsel for the Serum Institute of India, which produces and markets Covishield vaccine, submitted that the matter is infructuous and all necessary data are already with the regulators.

Rebutting these arguments, Prashant Bhushan contended that a vaccinated person transmits the virus as much as an unvaccinated.

"If I am COVID recovered and vaccinated even then I will be at equal risk of transmitting it to others, if I am infected again. If vaccination is not helping in reducing the transmission, then it is my decision to get vaccinated or not. It is my decision and it is my life. Serological survey shows that more than 80 percent of Delhi's population have had the infection. Mere assertion by the govt is not enough if I have produced evidence. Vaccine mimics a natural infection. There is no scientific journal in this world which disputes this proposition."

Bhushal also alleged regularities regarding the grant of emergency use authorisation to Covaxin, adding that there have been adverse effects to the vaccine.

The Bench said it has to determine to what extent the existing vaccine mandates are reasonable.

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