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CASE ANALYSIS: JACOB PULIYEL VS UNION OF INDIA[1]

INTRODUCTION

Covid-19 is a deadly disease that affected the whole globe. Several countries had faced lockdown time due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Every country was finding a solution to tackle this situation and as a result, some countries launched vaccines. After the approval from WHO, the Governments started vaccinating people. To ensure the good health of the citizens & to protect them from the deadly virus, the Government makes vaccines compulsory for everyone. But the question against the mandatory vaccination of the people aroused in a case in the Supreme Court under the writ petition.

FACTS OF THE CASE

The petitioner, Jacob Puliyel is a former member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) and gives bits of advice to the Government he filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to direct the Government to release trial data of the vaccine to be applied on the citizens of India[2]. To give proper detailing of the meetings of the Subject Expert committee & to disclose the reasons for the approval of vaccines to be used in the emergency. Giving information regarding the post-vaccine adverse effects & advertises these adverse effects to the common people so that the common people become aware of the effects of the vaccines and they can decide about their future. It was contended that mandatory vaccines are a violation of Article 21[3] and unconstitutional.

ISSUES

  • Is mandate vaccine violation of Article 21[4] of the Indian Constitution?
  • Was the collection and reporting of AEFIs improper?
  • Whether the segregated clinical trial data in the public domain is disclosed or not?
  • Whether the vaccine for Covid-19 is safe for children?

CONTENTIONS

  1. Vaccine mandate

There are certain prohibitions on the non-vaccinated people that they will not be allowed to attend programs, events, malls, shops, offices, and institutions which make the vaccine mandate for everyone. And whereas students are also not allowed to give examinations without vaccinating themselves. The study proves that vaccinating will not prevent infection & spreading of the virus and also vaccines are ineffective in the emerging new variants. The vaccine only provides immunity against the virus. There is no proper transparency in the disclosure of the trial data of the vaccine. Hence, certain restrictions and prohibitions on the non-vaccinated people forced the people to get vaccinated against their will. And also any kind of restrictions and prohibitions on non-vaccinated people are violative of Article 21[5] of the Indian Constitution. By limiting the rights of unvaccinated people and limiting access to public areas resulting in the forced vaccination of individuals. 

  1. Non-disclosure of the segregated clinical trial data

The drugs are approved in a hurriedly and opaque manner by the Drugs Controller General of India. The disclosure of the data leads to an adverse effect on people of various age groups. Whereas the respondent urged that the members of the committees and decisions were taken by the Subject experts. Also, there is no transparency in the approvals & rejections of the vaccines and there will be no infringement of the privacy of individuals in disclosing the segregated clinical data. 

  1. Improper collection and reporting of AEFIs

The petitioner contended that the Government is not taking proper measures in handling the adverse effects of the vaccination. The trial of vaccines was only on a small number of people which makes it difficult in analyzing the adverse effects of the vaccine on the people. The reactions which are already known are considered vaccine-related reactions otherwise all other reactions were not considered AEFIs. And it was also contended by the petitioner that the reporting of data regarding the adverse effect is not enough transparent.

  1. Vaccination for children

The petitioner contended that the children are at almost no risk for Covid-19. While referring to the articles in Nature and the Lancet, it was concluded that the children had already acquired antibodies against Covid-19.

JUDGMENT

The Court held that bodily freedom is protected under Article 21[6] of the Indian Constitution and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated. It is the discretion of the individuals to decide whether they want themselves to be vaccinated or not and it is their choice to live their life in the manner they want & they have the right to refuse medical treatment. If the individual does not want to get vaccinated with the vaccine then nobody can compel him/her to get vaccinated. And it was also concluded that the restrictions imposed by the Government are not unreasonable as it will be difficult to handle the situation in such non-restricted areas.   It was held that the findings of clinical trials are to be published within 12 months of the research completion and should be available openly to all people. It should be available freely and should be available publicly. All the detailing of the meetings related to the public domain will be available to the people and they will be well-informed and well-conscious in deciding being vaccinated or not.

Dealing with the third issue, the Court has gone through the detailing of the procedure to monitor, review and mount the incidence of AEFIs to the concerned authorities. The Court ensured that the AEFI system is not compromising with the rapid review and assessment system which has been followed at the National level. Union of India is directed to make it easier for people and private doctors to report suspected adverse effects online. These reports must be made public after receiving unique identification numbers and must not include any private or confidential information about the people who made them. The government shall take all necessary actions to make this self-reporting platform known and understandable, enlisting and educating pertinent individuals from the start of vaccination administration. It was held that the Court cannot give judgment on the decisions for the safety of the vaccines and related services. It was concluded that the paediatric vaccination was in accordance with the Global scientific consensus and the other bodies i.e. WHO, the UNICEF.

CONCLUSION

The Court dismissed the writ petitioner by saying that no individual can be forced to be vaccinated and the restrictions which were imposed on the people were not arbitrary. The restrictions imposed were in the large interest of public health. The data of the trials should be published in the public domain keeping the view of the privacy of the individuals. As the vaccine follows the global scientific consensus, the jurisdiction of the safety of the vaccines was beyond the Court’s jurisdiction.

Author(s) Name: Garima Kamboj (University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh)

References:

[1] Jacob Puliyel v Union if India (2021) Writ Petition (Civil) No. 607/2021

[2]Banjot Kaur ‘Two Lies the Union Govt Told the Supreme Court on COVID-19 Vaccines’ (The Wire, 05 May 2022) <https://thewire.in/government/two-lies-the-union-govt-told-the-supreme-court-on-covid-19-vaccines>  accessed 14 January, 2023

[3] Constitution of India 1950, art 21

[4] Ibid

[5]Ibid

[6] Ibid