The Centre on Tuesday clarified in the Supreme Court that it has not made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory and has only said that the vaccination should be 100 per cent.
The clarification from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, came after Additional Advocate General for Tamil Nadu Amit Anand Tiwari told a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai that the union government had “issued a mandate to us that 100 per cent people should be vaccinated.”
“Milords one clarification… that the State of Tamil Nadu said they made it mandatory as the Centre said 100 per cent vaccination. This is not a mandate. The Centre has not issued any mandate, the stand of Centre is that it should be 100 per cent but it is not a mandate,” Mehta told the top court, which reserved its order on the plea seeking directions for disclosure of data on clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines and post-jab cases.
At the outset, Tiwari submitted that Tamil Nadu has come out with the vaccination mandate because vaccination against COVID-19 is essential to prevent serious disease in the population.
He said that the vaccination mandate is in the larger public interest with a view to provide security from higher epidemics.
“I have submitted expert reports. Unvaccinated people are the cause of mutation of viruses … Where there is a likelihood that it would infect others or if there is a likelihood of spread, we have the power to issue such mandates… There is enough evidence to show that vaccines are preventing serious disease. It is further submitted that these provisions are also designed to nudge the public into getting vaccinated to stop the spread of (the) disease. They are passed not only for the safety of the concerned individual but also serve a greater purpose of ensuring the safety of others,” he said.
The counsel for the Maharashtra government also justified the state government orders which mandated the taking of COVID-19 vaccines to access public areas.
Vaccine manufactures Bharat Biotech Ltd and Serum Institute of India also opposed the plea and said the petition purporting to be in public interest, is liable to be dismissed with exemplary costs for espousing a private motive and attempting to cause vaccine hesitancy and public hysteria in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic.
The counsel for Bharat Biotech Ltd submitted that it has extensively published the findings of clinical trials in publicly available reputed peer-reviewed journals and they are available on its website.
“The submission of the Petitioner that the Respondent Company has not published Phase 3 clinical trial data in a peer reviewed journal is unsubstantiated as the Respondent has submitted the key outcomes and main findings in one of the most respected and peer reviewed journal in the field of medicine, THE LANCET,” Bharat Biotech Ltd’s counsel submitted.
The counsel for the Serum Institute of India also opposed the petitioner’s plea for disclosure.
“As a matter of principle they cannot ask for data. My data is with the regulator … There is no locus for the petitioner. Even under the RTI they have to show there is public interest. My submission is that it is an infructuous petition,” Serum’s counsel said.
The Centre had earlier told the apex court that all documents related to COVID-19 vaccines and their compositions were available in public domain, and the vaccine had proven to be very effective and safe.
It had earlier told the top court that as on March 13 this year, a total of over 180 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in the country, and 77,314 adverse events, which come to 0.004 per cent, had been reported.
The government had said that over 8.91 crore doses of Covaxin vaccine were administered in the age group of 15-18 years as on March 12, and the number of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) reported were 1,739 minor, 81 serious, and six severe.
It had said that both vaccines — Covaxin and Covishield — generate antibodies with minimum likelihood of the onset of any adverse event.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, had earlier argued that whether to get vaccinated or not is an individual decision, and in the absence of informed consent, mandatory vaccination was unconstitutional.
The apex court was hearing a plea filed by Dr Jacob Puliyel, a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, who has sought directions to also disclose post-vaccination data regarding adverse events.