NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday said that the Centre’s current vaccination policy is not arbitrary, and ruled that no individual can be forced to get vaccinated.
Disposing of a petition seeking disclosure of the vaccine trial’s data and putting a stay on the “vaccine mandates” issued by authorities in various parts of the country, a Bench led by Justice L Nageswara Rao said: “On the basis of substantial material filed before this court reflecting the near-unanimous views of experts on the benefits of vaccination…this court is satisfied that the current vaccination policy of the union of India is informed of the relevant considerations and cannot be said to be unreasonable or manifestly arbitrary.”
Supreme Court said that “contrasting scientific opinion coming forth from certain quarters to the effect that natural immunity offers better protection against Covid-19 is not pertinent for the determination of the issue before it”.
The bench also approved the vaccination policy for children but also said that the clinical trial data on this be made public as soon as possible. Further, they added that from the data presented to the court, it cannot be said that the restricted emergency use approval for Covishield and Covaxin was given in haste.
“No individual can be forced to be vaccinated” but added that “in the interest of protection of communitarian health, the government is entitled to regulate issues of public health concern by imposing certain limitations.”
The Court Order reads- “With respect to bodily integrity and personal autonomy of an individual considered in the light of vaccines and other public health measures introduced to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are of the opinion that bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated. Further, the personal autonomy of an individual which is a recognized facet of protections guaranteed under Article 21, encompasses the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment in the sphere of individual health. However, in the interest of protection of communitarian health, the government is entitled to regulate issues of public health concern by imposing certain limitations on individual rights which are open to scrutiny by constitutional courts to assess whether such invasion into an individual’s right to personal autonomy and right to access means of livelihood meets the three-fold requirement as laid down in KS Puttaswamy, ie. legality which presupposes the existence of law, need to be defined in terms of a legitimate state aim, and proportionality which ensures a rational nexus between the objects and means adopted to achieve them,”
It also asked authorities across the country which had imposed such mandates to recall them. The court was hearing a plea by Jacob Puliyel, a pediatrician who has been advising the Centre on vaccines as a member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
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(MARCH – APRIL 2022)