The Supreme Court of India has ruled that no person can be forced to get vaccinated, in a ruling that found the country’s constitution gives everyone the right to refuse vaccination. It also ruled that all data from Covid-19 vaccine trial be made publicly available “without further delay”.
The judges found that the government had a right to protect communitarian health, but found certain vaccine mandates imposed by State governments/Union Territories, disproportionate as they sought to deny access to basic welfare measures and freedom of movement to unvaccinated individuals.
A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said that such vaccine mandates wilted in the face of “emerging scientific opinion” that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 infection from unvaccinated individuals was almost on par with that from vaccinated persons.
The ruling, handed down May 3rd, is considered a milestone judgement for the country’s Covid-19 policy, Indian media outlets said.
The petition was filed by Dr Jacob Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group, the highest advisory body on immunisation in the country.
The court found that: “Considering bodily autonomy, bodily integrity is protected under article 21. No one can be forced to get vaccinated. (But) the government can regulate in areas of bodily autonomy.”
“As long as Covid numbers are low, no restriction should be placed on individuals from accessing public areas and the same should be recalled if such restrictions are in place,” the bench ruled.
The court also directed that adverse events of vaccines be published on a publicly accessible system without compromising the privacy of the individuals who are reporting those effects.
“Information related to adverse events is crucial to create awareness about vaccines and their efficiency, apart from contributing to scientific studies about the pandemic… There is a pertinent need for collection of data on adverse events and wider participation,” Justice Rao, who authored the judgment, observed.
Data from Covid-19 vaccine trials should be made available to the public immediately, the justices ruled.
The Bench held that India’s paediatric vaccination policy against the coronavirus was in line with “global scientific consensus” and bodies such as the World Health Organisation, and said it did not want to “second guess” these expert opinions.
However, the court directed the government to ensure that the findings and results of the relevant phases of clinical trials of vaccines already approved by the regulating authorities for administration to children be made public at the earliest, if not already done.
The court said the government had already disclosed segregated clinical data on phase three trials.
It held that materials published by the government did “not warrant the impression that the emergency use authorisation for Covishield and Covaxin vaccines was given in haste without thorough review of the data”.
“Regarding segregation of vaccine trial data, subject to the privacy of individuals, all trials already conducted and to be subsequently conducted, all data must be made available to the public without further delay,” the court said.