The Supreme Court Ruling on the Vaccination Mandate Strikes a Fine Balance!

  • The Apex Court while hearing a bunch of petitions about the legality of the mandatory vaccination of the unvaccinated has come out with a balanced ruling satisfying all the stakeholders on the matter. The Supreme Court has ruled that no individual(s) can be forced to get vaccinated even as it allowed for certain restrictions on individual freedoms for the sake of community health drawing a fine balance. The court found that the right to bodily integrity under Article 21 allows a person to refuse to get vaccinated. Further, the right to impose restrictions on individual rights over the body and livelihoods for safeguarding public health must satisfy the Right to Privacy judgment’s triple test of legality, need, and proportionality. Let us delve further into the ruling.

PC: Jeff King

  • As you are aware, legality presupposes the existence of a law, the need is defined in terms of legitimate state aim, and proportionality requires that the restrictive means employed must seek out effective alternatives and invade individual rights only to the minimum degree necessary. Of course, on this last score, even while it ruled out arbitrariness in the Centre’s vaccination policy, SC suggested recall of all vaccine mandates as governments didn’t produce irrefutable data to demolish the petitioner’s argument that both unvaccinated and inoculated are almost on a par in transmitting infections. Mind you, the Centre’s less than satisfactory efforts at sharing data in the public domain may come to haunt it in the coming days. Hopefully, it should not.
  • Nonetheless, it is incontrovertible that vaccines have saved lives to a great extent even if the data made available is sketchy. As seen during the mild third wave, hospitalization was disproportionately high among the unvaccinated. Interestingly, the court deemed vaccine mandates do not proportionate till Covid cases remain low or new data justifies them unquestioningly. Yes, this does give authorities the leeway to bring the mandates back during infection surges. Most importantly, the vaccine mandates should not take draconian turns by denying people welfare benefits and livelihoods. It should be designed to achieve legitimate aims like minimizing contagion risks and preventing overrunning of hospitals during virus surges.

PC: GlobalData Healthcare

  • As such, courts maintaining a hawk-eye using the privacy triple test will help check arbitrary vaccine mandates. Note that this SC judgment has come after 96% of Indians over 15 have taken one dose of the anti-Covid vaccine and 84% two doses. Recollect how the devastation witnessed during the second wave was enough for the people to dispel vaccine hesitancy and help convince a significant majority to get inoculated. Indeed, it wasn’t coercion but free, informed, and accessible vaccination that helped achieve the State’s aim. Finally, the right of citizens to not take vaccination or seek medical help mustn’t stop governments from making all-out efforts to persuade them to safeguard individual and public health.