The Supreme Court on Friday said it cannot just cast doubt on the country’s Covid vaccination programme at this crucial stage and cannot afford the price of laxity of not vaccinating people.
Lakhs and crores of people have taken their vaccines and even the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it and the whole world is getting vaccinated, the top court said.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna asked petitioners Ajay Kumar Gupta and others to serve the copy of the petition to the Solicitor General and sought his response.
“We do have a system, guidelines in place for monitoring any adverse event following immunization. There will always be dissenters, but policy cannot be fashioned as per them,” the bench said during the hearing.
“We have to see the good of the nation as a whole. The world has witnessed an unprecedented pandemic, the like of which we have not seen in our lifetime. We cannot just cast doubt on the vaccination programme at this crucial stage. It is of the highest national importance that people get vaccinated. We cannot afford the price of laxity of not vaccinating the people,” the bench said.
The plea filed by Ajay Kumar Gupta and others alleged that thousands have died due to the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) and sought direction to Centre to make administration of vaccine purely voluntary, with the prior informed consent of person going for immunization, and seeking a report from European countries where Covishield was discontinued or its use restricted.
The bench said that there will always be studies five to ten years down the line about the vaccination programme but all it wants is that people remain safe and fatalities go down.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for petitioners, said that there have been thousands of cases of deaths and serious adverse events following vaccinations that have been reported in various newspapers.
“Deaths cannot be attributed to vaccination alone, there may be other reasons,” the bench said.
Colin Gonsalves said it is possible that vaccination may not have been the cause but these deaths need to be investigated as to whether there was a clot in the brain or the heart due to the vaccination, which led to a heart attack or brain stroke.
He contended that under the guidelines of 2015 on Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), health workers, such as ASHA and Anganwadi workers had to go and visit the vaccinated persons for a specific period and if there is death then an autopsy must be conducted under a specific protocol.
He said that these guidelines have now been revised in 2020 and only passive surveillance is allowed based on the complaint of a person concerned or the family about any AEFI and that is the reason there has been an unbelievable number of official deaths in the country.
“You cannot just say unbelievable. We have to look at the benefits of vaccination also. We cannot just send a message across the board that there is some problem with the vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it and lakhs and lakhs of people are taking it. Vaccination is happening across the globe. Even in developed countries like the USA, vaccination programmes are going on. We cannot just cast doubt on it,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The bench, after perusing the guidelines, said that the revised guidelines also provide for tracking serious and minor AEFI and monthly progress reports are sought through peripheral health staffs, including ASHA workers.
Colin Gonsalves said that in developed countries what is happening is active surveillance of AEFI and data collection is done through designated staff, who do follow up for one year of the vaccinated person.
“Here, what we are doing is passive surveillance under which we are waiting for the family members to come forward and complain. Some doctors have raised serious concern about the deaths happening in the country and questioned this methodology,” he said.
The bench said that it has something in mind and therefore the petition should be served to the Solicitor General and listed the matter after two weeks.
The plea filed through advocate Satya Mitra said that in the backdrop of the growing number of deaths and serious adverse events being reported following COVID-19 vaccine administration, it is seeking direction to actively follow up to record and investigate instances of deaths/serious adverse events within 30 days following immunization.
It has also sought direction to advertise extensively in newspapers, television, radio, and on social media that any person dying or suffering serious adverse events within 30 days of vaccination may complain directly to officials and to further direct the authorities to mandatorily record all the cases being reported for the payment of substantial compensation.
It has also sought publication of information related to three phases of trials of the vaccines.