The Supreme Court on Monday observed that ordering the government and Covid-19 jab manufacturers to reveal data on clinical trials and adverse events after immunisation could add to vaccine hesitancy in the country, The Hindu reported.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Dr Jacob Puliyel, former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. He sought directions from the court for public disclosure of the data.
Puliyel, in his plea filed through lawyer Prashant Bhushan, clarified that he was not challenging the country’s vaccination programme, according to Live Law. The petitioner added that he was only seeking the publication of complete data from clinical trials of the vaccines being used in India.
“Why keep it [the data] under a shroud?” Bhushan asked, according to The Hindu. “I am not saying they stop the vaccination. I am only urging them [the government and vaccine makers] to be transparent. People have the right to be informed.”
Bhushan also argued against making vaccination compulsory for availing benefits or services in the country, according to Bar and Bench.
“Coercing people to take the vaccines on pain of losing their jobs or access to essential services, which has begun to happen in many parts of the country, is a violation of the fundamental rights of people, especially in a situation where emergency approvals have been given to vaccines without full and adequate testing and without any transparency of the trial data and post vaccination data,” the petitioner said.
“Are you pressing personal autonomy against the concern for public health?” Justice L Nageswara Rao asked Bhushan, according to The Hindu. The judge said that courts in other countries had backed the governments’ vaccination mandate.
In June, Twitter had flagged a post by Bhushan about vaccines as misleading. “The healthy young have hardly any chance of serious effects or dying due to Covid,” he claimed in his tweet. “They have a higher chance of dying due to vaccines. The Covid recovered have much better natural immunity, than the vaccine gives them. Vaccines may even compromise their acquired natural immunity.”
Many social media users have criticised the lawyer for his “anti-vaccine” claims. Unfazed by the censure, Bhushan had even posted a long clarification on his “vaccine scepticism” and said that he was “shocked by attempts to censor such contrarian views”.
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However, the Supreme Court on Monday noted that Bhushan had raised important matters through the petition.
“We appreciate your concern that they [the government and vaccine manufactures] have to reveal the entire data on adverse effects,” the court said, according to Live Law. “But we have to to see that the situation is very grave. We are still not out of it [the pandemic]. We still have 4 lakh [active] cases. Our concern is that if any inquiry at this stage will throw doubts on the efficacy [of vaccines].”
Bhushan argued that making data related to vaccines public will only help reduce hesitancy. He also sought a stay on compulsory vaccination but the court turned down his request. “Let the vaccination go on and we don’t want to stop this,” the court added.
But the court issued notices to the Centre, the Drug Controller of India, the Indian Council of Medical Research, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, asking them to respond to the petition in four weeks.
“Once we entertain this petition it should not send a signal that we do not trust the efficacy of these vaccines”, the court clarified.
India has administered more than 50 crore vaccine doses since the beginning of the inoculation drive on January 16. The country has approved five vaccines for emergency use – Serum Institute’s Covishield, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Russia’s Sputnik V, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot.