Responding to a petition seeking ease of access to inoculation of persons with disabilities (PwDs), the Centre has informed the Supreme Court that no guidelines have been issued to mandate COVID-19 vaccination, or make carrying a vaccination certificate mandatory for any purpose. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated in its affidavit on January 13 that “no person can be forced to be vaccinated against their wishes”. The Centre’s reply comes days before India is scheduled to complete one year of its COVID vaccination program.
Noting that getting vaccinated is in public interest and that the government, through various print and social media platforms, has been advocating it for all citizens, the health ministry mentioned, “The Government of India has not issued any SOPs (standard operating procedures) which make carrying of vaccination certificate mandatory for any purpose.”
“It is humbly submitted that the direction and guidelines released by Government of India and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, do not envisage any forcible vaccination without obtaining consent of the concerned individual. It is further humbly submitted that vaccination for COVID-19 is of larger public interest in view of the ongoing pandemic situation. It is duly advised, advertised and communicated through various print and social media platforms that all citizens should get vaccinated and systems and processes have been designed to facilitate the same. However, no person can be forced to be vaccinated against their wishes,” said the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in its affidavit to the apex court.
The ministry further said that the government has formulated operational guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination, wherein “all beneficiaries are to be informed about adverse events which may occur after COVID-19 vaccine”. However, states such as Maharashtra and Kerala have mandated complete vaccination. In Maharashtra, full vaccination is compulsory for entry in local trains. The Kerala administration has said that the state will not bear the cost of COVID treatment for unvaccinated people.
The Centre informed the court that till 1,52,95,43,602 doses have been administered in India as of January 11, 2022, with 90.84 percent of the eligible adult population having received their first dose and 61 percent having received their second dose. Out of these, 23,678 doses have been administered to disabled persons who had voluntarily chosen to be identified to be eligible for vaccination using their Unique Disability ID Card/Disability Certificate for registration.
The health ministry stated in its affidavit that provisions have also been made to vaccinate persons with disabilities who do not have any of the prescribed ID cards, “by following Facilitated Cohort Registration process on Co-WIN”. The affidavit further explained, “Co-WIN system provides the facility for creation of special vaccination sessions for this purpose and these sessions will have the features of registration of as many beneficiaries as are to be covered (subject to the limit of session capacity), without mandatory capturing of Mobile Number and Photo ID Card, through facilitated cohort registration and all vaccination slots in such special sessions will be reserved for vaccination of such facilitated cohorts.”
The government also informed the SC that adverse instances following the vaccination are monitored through a “well-structured and robust” Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) surveillance system, through which the recipient of the vaccines can report suspected adverse events on the Co-WIN portal. The government asserted that the grievance redressal mechanism is already active and persons with disabilities have also submitted their grievances that are addressed in a timely manner.
The affidavit further mentioned that the government has suggested states and union territories to “vaccinate bed ridden or beneficiaries with extremely restricted mobility or disability and/or special need along with their caregivers at their places of residence using mobile vaccination teams”. The health ministry said that ‘eSanjeevaniOPD’, a patient-doctor telemedicine platform, has been functional since April 13, 2020 and around 25,000 doctors are active on the portal to advise COVID affected patients and their relatives.
“Over 531 online OPDs are functional on eSanjeevaniOPD of which 480 are specialist and super-specialist OPDs and 51 are general OPDs. Till Now, 63.6 lakh consultations have been effected on eSanjeevaniOPD, which work round the clock and available even on holidays,” mentioned the affidavit.
On door-to-door vaccination, the ministry said that guidelines had been issued to states and union territories to undertake meticulous and need-based planning to execute the Near to Home COVID Vaccine Centres (NHCVCs) strategy at the block or urban area level, and that the identification of NHCVC sites be done according to the protocol.