Government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy reasonable: Supreme Court

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A Supreme Court bench of Justices Nageshwar Rao and Gavai today held that India's vaccine policy is reasonable and not manifestly arbitrary. The court has further held that it is satisfied with the current vaccine policy and that the government can regulate bodily autonomy despite holding that no individual can be forced to get vaccinated. 

The court however suggested that till the number of COVID-19 cases are low, the restrictions imposed on unvaccinated individuals with regard to access of public areas and other aspects be withdrawn if not already done so. The Court has further held that restrictions imposed on the individuals cannot be said to be proportionate. 

On the vaccination for children, the court held that it follows the global standards and practices, the court directed the government to however publish data on adverse effects at the earliest. 

The above judgment was delivered in a plea filed by Dr. Jacob Puliyel which alleges that the mandates being issued by various authorities across the country, both public and private institutions, making vaccination compulsory by way of the alleged coercion, are unconstitutional and repugnant to an individual's right to self-determination.

According to the plea "a large volume of studies have now demonstrated that an unvaccinated individual with prior infection is exponentially safer to be around than someone who had the vaccine but not prior infection."  The plea stated that the efficacy of the vaccines has not been established yet and the same is not being told to the public.

The supreme court while issuing notice in the plea remarked that it raises “seminal issue of public importance”, the bench expressed its apprehensions on prayers sought adding that it would like to hear the petitioner on the issue of personal autonomy. Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta had opposed  the plea by arguing that any attempt by groups with vested interest which will result in vaccine hesitancy may be avoided.

In March 2022, Prashant Bhushan, advocate, arguing against the vaccine mandate submitted that despite almost all the judges of the Supreme Court having been vaccinated, some still got infected with COVID-19. He said the same is the case with people. Bhushan while opposing vaccine mandates for children had argued that “It is unstick and irresponsible to use such untested vaccines on children. They are hardly affected by COVID. Chances of children dying of vaccine itself is more than chances of the child dying due to COVID.”

The central government had filed an affidavit stating that “Out of 180 crore covid vaccines administered, only 0.004% adverse events reported”: The vaccine manufacturers opposed the plea by arguing that COVID-19 is one of a kind problem that mankind has faced. Several States supported the vaccine mandate by bringing to the court's attention that orders mandating vaccination for accessing the public services are justified and are in the public interest.

SG Tushar Mehta, while replying to Bhushan's arguments had said that infecting someone else by not taking vaccination cannot be a right of another person. He had added that  no data regarding vaccines can be shared to satisfy somebody's curiosity unless a legal mandate requires it. SG, while relying on a gamut of foreign and Indian judgments had argued that ‘One person’s right to not be infected will outweigh another’s right to not be vaccinated


(To be updated after the court releases the judgment)

Case title: Jacob Puliyel Vs Union of India