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Covid vaccine trials: SC notice to Centre on plea seeking disclosure of data

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose said it will examine if personal autonomy would prevail over public health but refused to pass any interim direction on “vaccine mandates”, saying it would like to hear the Centre first.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: August 10, 2021 3:16:38 am
While hearing the plea, the Supreme Court bench referred to the problem of "vaccine hesitancy" in the country. (Representational)

SUPREME COURT on Monday issued notice to the Centre on a petition seeking disclosure of Covid vaccines’ clinical trial data and stay on the “vaccine mandates” being issued by authorities across the country.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose said it will examine if personal autonomy would prevail over public health but refused to pass any interim direction on “vaccine mandates”, saying it would like to hear the Centre first.

“We will decide if the right to life as compared to public health gains prominence. …We cannot take the responsibility of passing any orders at this stage. Let us hear Centre first,” it said.

“As it is, we are fighting vaccine hesitancy in this country. WHO says one of the major problems is vaccine hesitancy. If we launch an investigation into this after a large number of people have taken vaccines, would it not be throwing doubts in the minds of people” regarding vaccinations, the bench told Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the petitioner Jacob Puliyel, a paediatrician who has been advising Centre on vaccines, as a member of NTAGI.

The counsel said the petition is regarding transparency of vaccine data and coercive vaccine mandates being issued to the effect that people will be put out of job if not vaccinated or shops will not be allowed to be kept open. This, he added, is happening without disclosing the data of vaccine public trials.

Bhushan pointed out that two-third population of the country already had Covid and immunity due to the disease is higher.

Justice Rao then asked whether he wanted vaccination to stop. Bhushan replied that all he is saying is that data must be put out for public and independent experts to see. “We understand your point. We are looking at the bigger picture,” responded the Bench.

Bhushan told the court that he is not saying that emergency use authorization cannot be given. “I’m saying that the data needs to be put out. And the post-vaccination data needs to be put out. I’m not asking for vaccination to be halted.”

“Yes, you are not asking for vaccination to be stopped. But what we are thinking is if it will create doubts among people and lead to hesitancy,” said the court.

Bhushan contended that vaccine hesitancy is among the most educated ones as independent experts have not seen the vaccine or trial data. He claimed that in the past one month, 3,000 deaths have been reported due to Covid vaccines, but reporting of such deaths has been 10 per cent only.

He said as per the Helsinki declaration of the World Medical Association, vaccine trial data needs to be made public.

The counsel said no one can be coerced to take vaccines by saying that services will be denied if they don’t and referred to various vaccination orders by authorities across the country. But the bench said it found the argument difficult to accept. “We cannot accept this as you are pressing personal autonomy against public interest. It is said unless everyone is vaccinated, nobody is safe,” the bench observed.

Though Bhushan pressed for an interim order, the court refused. “We are looking at larger public interest…There is no way we can stop the vaccines,” it said.

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