Public Health at Risk on ‘Right to Refuse’ COVID Vaccine: Madras High Court

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Excerpt

A Division Bench led by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy heard a PIL filed for the requirement of vaccination of persons who are either homebound or with profound disabilities. They expressed their opinion on the ‘right to refuse’ Covid-19 vaccine as its administration includes more significant public health interest. 

Facts

The State has filed a report through the Health Secretary. It appears that adequate measures have been taken to vaccinate persons with disabilities, mainly persons who are homebound. The State should try and persuade persons with awareness campaigns and scientific data to indicate the efficacy of the vaccines and the essential nature thereof in dealing with the present pandemic. Indeed, vaccinating oneself may not only be to protect oneself but also in the more significant interest of public health. When such a more considerable interest in public health comes into play, and it is possible that a person who has not taken the vaccine may not reveal any symptoms but still be a silent carrier, it is doubtful whether the right to refuse to take the vaccine can be exercised in such circumstances.

 

Arguments

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The State reports that there is also an element of reluctance in some quarters to take the vaccine. As vaccination of persons with disabilities is concerned, it was noted that the State had taken appropriate measures at rehabilitation homes, mental care centres, and the like. However, there does not appear to be a plan in place for persons with disabilities who are homebound and do not have the ability or resources to travel, particularly in semi-urban and rural areas.

 

Court’s observations

The observation was made after the State reported reluctance among the general public to take the vaccine. The latest status report indicates appropriate measures taken or planned to be taken at rehabilitation homes, mental care centres, and the like. There does not appear to be a plan in place for persons with disabilities who are homebound and do not have the ability or resources to travel, particularly in semi-urban and rural areas. It is hoped that all persons with disabilities, irrespective of status and resources, are cared for by the State in due course.

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Court’s decision

The Court suggested that the State should try and persuade persons regarding the efficacy of vaccines by conducting awareness campaigns and sharing scientific data. The order may be read alongside a recent decision of the Meghalaya High Court, holding that mandatory or forceful vaccination impinges on the fundamental right of citizens. It had suggested that people have an “informed choice” concerning vaccination.

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