‘How personal autonomy can be balanced with public health’

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice on a plea seeking transparency in clinical trial data for the vaccines being administered in India under emergency use authorization and also a stay on the vaccine mandates, which is being issued by authorities in various parts of the country.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing petitioner Jacob Puliyel, vehemently argued that there is evidence in medical literature that, vaccines that have not been adequately tested for safety or efficacy are now licensed under emergency use authorisation without the data being disclosed to the public.

Bhushan emphasized coercive mandates for use of these inadequately tested vaccines that infringes on personal autonomy and it also affects the livelihood of people, especially when authorities say one cannot shop, if not vaccinated.

A bench comprising justices L. Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose noted, “Not willing to accept, personal autonomy against public health argument”.

The bench cited a US court judgment, ruling in favour of a university which made vaccination mandatory for entry on campus, however, added that this has been challenged before the Supreme Court in the US.

The bench noted that message should not go that court is questioning vaccine efficiency. “We won’t pass any order as of now as vaccine hesitancy is already a problem,” the bench observed.

The bench pointed out that 50 crore people have taken vaccines. It further queried: “Wont this petition put a doubt in the mind of people who have taken vaccines already?”

Bhushan replied he is not against vaccination drive, but people have a right to see the data, and if data is not made public, how will people give informed consent.

Bhushan argued this is the first time in history that a universal vaccination programme has been unrolled without completing trials or placing clinical data in public domain. He added that two-third of the country already has Covid, and immunity due to covid is higher than vaccines.

Bhushan said this was the most important PIL that he has ever filed and added no one should be forced to have vaccine against his choice or to get some facilities. The bench agreed to examine, how “personal autonomy can be balanced with larger public health”.

Concluding the hearing, the bench told Bhushan, “You have raised seminal issue, we will consider it.”

The top court issued notice on the plea and asked the Centre to file response within four weeks on the petition filed by Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.