The Supreme Court on Friday said it cannot send a wrong message on the ongoing Covid vaccination and emphasized that the WHO has also spoken in favour of the vaccines.
A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna said: "We cannot send a message that there is some problem with the vaccination. The WHO has spoken in favour of vaccines, countries across the world are doing it! We cannot just cast doubt on it."
Justice Chandrachud further added that the revised guidelines also provide another channel for tracking serious and minor AEFI (adverse event following immunisation) through the 'peripheral health staff', which includes Asha workers. Citing monthly progress reports, he reiterated that at this juncture, it is not correct to cast a doubt on vaccination.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, submitted that there were hundreds of reported deaths across the country, linked to the vaccine, at the time this petition was filed. He contended that healthy people going for vaccination are collapsing and dying.
Justice Chandrachud replied it may not be attributed to the vaccine and queried, "What is the correlation?"
Gonsalves replied, "Maybe. But, we must have a monitoring system to record this...". He added that 2015 AEFI guidelines were revised in 2020, which only provides for passive surveillance -- relying only on the complaint of a person concerned or the family affected.
Justice Chandrachud remarked, "We cannot say, we haven't formulated guidelines for AEFI in India. We do have a system. There are always bound to be dissenters, but we can't fashion our policy as per them."
He added that the court has to see the good of the nation as a whole. "The world was in the throes of an unprecedented pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in our life. It is of the highest national importance that we vaccinate," he said.
Justice Chandrachud further added that there will always be studies, either five or ten years down the lane, but, at this stage, "We cannot afford the price of laxity, of not vaccinating. We have to keep the people safe and reduce fatality."
Justice Chandrachud emphasized, "When you have guidelines, why should the court interfere at this crucial stage of vaccination? Every country in the world has multiple vaccines...look at the developed world, the US."
After detailed hearing in the argument, the bench asked Gonsalves to serve the petition in the office of the Solicitor General. The petitioners, Ajay Kumar Gupta and others, sought direction to the Centre to follow up, record and advertise instances of death occurring within 30 days of immunisation.
The bench said, "We have a few things in our minds," and scheduled the matter for further hearing after two weeks.