Legality around vaccines
After much wait, Bharat Biotech, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institution of Virology (NIV) has finally developed an indigenous vaccine against the Corona Virus, namely COVAXIN. The second vaccine to get the nod after multiple trials is COVISHIELD, developed by the Serum Institute of India. The Indian government has lauded the work and taken decisions to start with vaccination drives throughout the country.
This is embarked as the world’s largest vaccination drive in history. It is also to be noted that India has the highest vaccine production capacity in the world, including the current largest vaccine producer- Serum Institute of India. World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, has also recognized and praised the performance of Indian vaccine developers.
Image Source: FDA.gov
In the global context, there are numerous vaccines that have been developed for the fight against the pandemic. This has sparked a debate throughout some countries that whether the vaccine shall be trusted, if it can have gruesome side-effects, or the credibility of the developers. The debate got more fire when 29 deaths were reported in Norway, after they had been administered with Pfizer’s vaccine against the COVID-19.
Novak Djokovic, tennis superstar, has refused to take any vaccines. Although, he cited reasons that one wrong move may cause harm to an athlete’s body, he mentioned that he wouldn’t like to be forced to take a vaccine shot while travelling to play in tournaments.
In India, there has not been a major debate- the country has expressed the pride it takes in its scientists, there are a few politicians who publicly expressed distrust, and henceforth a refusal to take the vaccine. Hence, in this article, several provisions and instruments by law are discussed, to see whether the government can ‘force’ a person to administer the vaccine against their will, for public good.
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Several previous provisions
Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1892: It showcases that the government can pass a law if necessary, to make vaccination compulsory. Smallpox was spread in India, and hence to curb this highly infectious disease, the Britishers had to codify this specific act, in order to ensure that the affected people are vaccinated, keeping in mind public health. The person who violated this act, had to spend about 2 years in prison. This affirms that the government can make vaccination as a mandatory law, upholding public health.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897: The act was passed amid the on-going bubonic plague in Bombay (now Mumbai). The act aims to provide proper management of epidemic diseases and lays down powers for the government to make temporary laws and provisions to prevent further outspread of the disease. It recognizes the extent of the outbreak and gives power to the government to take special actions in order to uphold public health and welfare.
Further, the act lays down punishments for violations, which include jail terms, fines, or both. It is also to be noted that the act also lays legal protection to implementing officers and authorities so that they can function without hurdles.
National Disaster Management Act, 2005: This act was laid down for better and effective management of disasters in India. The act was implemented during the onset of the Coronavirus outbreak in India. It vests wide power with the national authorities and national executive committee created under this act. These can further mandate vaccination to be compulsory through appropriate departments of state governments and central government.
Another way to get people to take voluntary action for vaccination is to increase costs for refusal of vaccines, without making refusal illegal. For example, under the Passport Act of 1967, the government can either refuse the issuance of a passport or revoke an issued passport in relation to any person who refuses to be vaccinated. In relation to immunization for Covid-19, the government can explain its action on the grounds of maintaining friendly relations with other countries or in the interest of the general public. The government can also impose restrictions on accessing public employment or create disqualifications to accessing welfare benefits in the absence of vaccination.
Vaccine for Corona has been much awaited- in order to get the normal lives back, in order to revive the shrunken economy, to retrieve the pressure that has been on our health professionals for almost a year. As mentioned earlier, this is supposed to be the largest vaccination drive in the world. Hence, the availability of the vaccine becomes an utmost priority. Furthermore, the vaccine is to be controlled, administered, and monitored for the public good.
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The government must keep the distribution of vaccine under its control. The public must be informed about how the vaccine has to be acquired; they shall not be misinformed about the vaccine. If not taken care of, there may be cases of fraudulent vaccines, which may further result in major health problems, and even deaths. The government has to also ensure that there are no rumors; that those who spread such rumors and fake news are given adequate punishment. There has to be a strict environment in matters of vaccination, and it shall hence be administered through the government.
The government has made a sequential order for vaccination. The healthcare and frontline workers are to be vaccinated on a priority basis. The Prime Minister has also requested people’s participation in order to make this vaccination drive successful. An application, namely CoWIN, has been developed. Healthcare workers have registered themselves on this database. The digital database platform will provide real-time information on vaccine stocks, their storage temperature, and individualized tracking of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Another important aspect is the vaccinators. This is the most important pillar of the aforementioned aspects. More than 61,000 program managers, two lakh vaccinators, and 3.7 lakh other vaccination team members have been trained so far as part of training at states, districts, and block levels as per ministry data.
It seems that the government has taken all possible measures for the vaccination of people. But there shall be things that we as the general public shall also ensure. Firstly, the spreading of rumors through social media. One must refrain from posting about the vaccine unless it is verified information.
Secondly, it is important to recognize the fact that such a vaccination drive will require participation from both the government and the public. Hence, one shall cooperate as much as required. Even after getting vaccinated, for a certain period of time, people must continue wearing masks, using sanitizers, and maintaining social distancing.
This is because even after getting vaccinated, one can still be a medium for the spread of disease, henceforth for the public good, we shall continue following the guidelines that the government declares. The pandemic is on the verge of defeat, and humanity is victorious, back to its glory days.
(Writer, The Legal State)
– Edited by Mahek Raval
(Editor, The Legal State)