The Supreme Court on Friday said it cannot just cast doubt on the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the country at this crucial stage and cannot afford the price of laxity of not vaccinating people. The top court said lakhs and crores of people have taken their vaccines and even the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it and the whole world is getting vaccinated.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna asked the petitioners Ajay Kumar Gupta and others to serve the copy of the petition to the solicitor general and sought his response. During the hearing, the bench said, We do have a system, guidelines in place for monitoring any adverse event following immunization. There will always be dissenters, but policy cannot be fashioned as per them." “We have to see the good of the nation as a whole. The world has witnessed an unprecedented pandemic, like of which we have not seen in our lifetime. We cannot just cast doubt on the vaccination programme at this crucial stage. It is of the highest national importance that people get vaccinated. We cannot afford the price of laxity of not vaccinating the people, the bench said. The plea filed by Gupta and others alleged that thousands of deaths have taken place due to Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) and sought direction to Centre to make administration of vaccine purely voluntary, prior informed consent of person going for immunization and direction to Centre for seeking a report from European countries where Covishield was discontinued or use restricted.
The bench said that there will always be studies 5-10 years down the line about the vaccination programme but all that it wants is that people remain safe and fatalities are reduced. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for petitioners, said that there have been thousands of cases of deaths and serious adverse events following vaccination which have been reported in various newspapers of the country. The bench said, Deaths cannot be attributed to vaccination alone, there may be other reasons.
Gonsalves said it is possible that vaccination may not have been the cause but these deaths need to be investigated as to whether there was a clot in the brain or the heart due to the vaccination, which led to a heart attack or brain stroke. He contended that under the guidelines of 2015 on Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), health workers, such as Asha and Anganwadi workers had to go and visit the vaccinated person for a specific period and if there is death then a post-mortem was to be conducted under a specific protocol.
He said that these guidelines have now been revised in 2020 and only passive surveillance is allowed based on a complaint of a person concerned or the family about any AEFI and that is the reason there has been an unbelievable number of official deaths in the country. Justice Chandrachud said, You cannot just say unbelievable. We have to look at the benefits of vaccination also. We cannot just send a message across the board that there is some problem with the vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it and lakhs and lakhs of people are taking it. Vaccination is happening across the globe. Even in developed countries like the USA, vaccination programmes are going on. We cannot just cast doubt on it. The bench after perusing the guidelines said that the revised guidelines also provide for tracking serious and minor AEFI and monthly progress reports are sought through peripheral health staff which includes Asha workers.
Gonsalves said that in developed countries what is happening is active surveillance of AEFI and data collection is done through designated staff, who do follow up for one year of the vaccinated person. Here, what we are doing is passive surveillance under which we are waiting for the family members to come forward and complain. Some doctors have raised serious concern about the deaths happening in the country and questioned this methodology, he said.
The bench said that there will always be different points of view but the question is when there are appropriate guidelines, then why should the court interfere at this crucial stage of vaccination. The bench said that it has something in mind and therefore the petition should be served to the Solicitor General and listed the matter after two weeks. The plea filed through advocate Satya Mitra said that in the backdrop of the growing number of deaths and serious adverse events being reported following COVID-19 vaccine administration, it is seeking direction to actively follow up to record and investigate instances of deaths/serious adverse events within 30 days following immunization.
It has also sought direction to advertise extensively in newspapers, television, radio, and on social media that any person dying or suffering serious adverse events within 30 days of vaccination may complain directly to officials and to further direct the authorities to mandatorily record all the cases being reported for the payment of substantial compensation. It has also sought publication of information related to Phase 1,2 and 3 trials of the vaccine.