No individual can be forced to undergo vaccination, says SC

Upholding the right of an individual to refuse to get vaccinated for Covid-19, the Supreme Court on Monday said the government’s current vaccination policy to protect community health cannot be termed “unreasonable or manifestly arbitrary”. The government, the apex court noted, is entitled to regulate public health concerns by imposing certain limitations on individual rights, which are open to scrutiny by courts.

A Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai said no individual can be forced to get vaccinated for Covid-19 as bodily integrity and personal autonomy, recognised under Article 21 of the Constitution, encompassed the right to refuse any medical treatment in individual sphere.

The Bench also noted that the Central government had said its Covid-19 vaccine policy was voluntary but a few states and organisations made it mandatory for access to certain places or services.

The judges said the restrictions imposed on those not vaccinated against Covid-19 by institutions, private organisations and state governments should be recalled as those are not found proportional to the object of the policy.

Delivering the judgment on a petition filed by Jacob Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the SC said no data has been placed by the Union government or the states, controverting the material placed in the form of emerging scientific opinion that the risk of transmission of the virus from unvaccinated individuals is almost on a par with that from vaccinated persons.

While approving the decision by the Centre to vaccinate children, the court also directed the Union government to ensure that key findings and results of the relevant phases of clinical trials of vaccines already approved by the regulatory authorities for administration to children, must be made public at the earliest, if not already done.

The court, however, said its suggestion to review the vaccine mandates is limited to the present situation alone and is not to be construed as interfering with the lawful exercise of power by the executive.

Puliyel had challenged the Covid-19 vaccine mandates, and disclosure of trial data on the grounds that certain vaccine mandates notified by states, including those that made vaccination a precondition for accessing any benefits or services, were violative of the rights of citizens and unconstitutional.