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Won’t do anything to bring on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, says SC

Petitioner seeks active surveillance of immunised people

The Supreme Court on Friday made it clear that it will not do anything to bring on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy even as it asked a petitioner to serve a copy of his plea to direct the Government for active surveillance of immunised people and publication of the exact number of deaths which occurred within 30 days of inoculation.

“Look at the positivity of vaccination. We cannot send a message that there is some problem with the vaccination. WHO has spoken in favour of vaccines, countries all over the world are vaccinating their citizens. We cannot cast any doubts,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a Bench comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna, said.

Appearing for petitioner Ajay Kumar Gupta, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves argued that people who have been vaccinated are not being taken for follow-ups.

“There are no directives for a follow-up… Healthy people are collapsing and dying,” Mr. Gonsalves submitted.

However, the Bench asked what the co-relation between vaccine and the deaths was. It may not be attributable to the vaccine, it said.

Mr. Gonsalves however said these deaths need to be investigated. He said the Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) guidelines require health workers to check on the vaccinated population after a specific period after which clearance ought to be given.

These guidelines were revised in 2020 which only provide “passive surveillance” on the health status of inoculated persons, that too, on the request of the person concerned or the affected families.

The Bench however observed orally that the revised guidelines provided a mechanism for tracking instances of serious and minor AEFI.

It said the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) have been tasked to keep an eye on the vaccinated population and provide monthly reports.

“We do have a system. We have formulated AEFI guidelines. There will always be dissenters. Policy cannot be as per them… We have to consider the good of the nation as a whole… The world was in 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,” the court said.

The court said there would be other studies in the future, but things cannot become lax by not vaccinating.

Mr. Gonsalves said he had no intention to cast doubts on the vaccine or induce vaccine hesitancy.

“Countries are doing active surveillance,” he said.

The Bench asked Mr. Gonsalves to serve a copy of the petition and listed the case after two weeks.

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