From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Aspects of Article 21
Mains level : Vaccine hesitancy
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of an individual against forcible vaccination and the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy to protect communitarian health.
What is the news?
- Vaccine hesitancy has been on rise these days.
- The SC has found certain vaccine mandates imposed by the State governments and Union Territory administrations disproportionate.
- They tend to deny access to basic welfare measures and freedom of movement to unvaccinated individuals.
Right not to get vaccinated
- The bench upheld the right to bodily integrity and personal autonomy of an individual in the light of vaccines and other public health measures.
- Bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated.
- The court struck a balance between individual right to bodily integrity and refuse treatment with the government’s concern for public health.
Subject to scrutiny
- When the issue is extended to “communitarian health”, the government was indeed “entitled to regulate issues”.
- But its right to regulate by imposing limits to individual rights was open to judicial scrutiny.
What is Vaccine Hesitancy?
- The reluctance of people to receive safe and recommended available vaccines is known as ‘vaccine hesitancy’.
- This was already a growing concern before the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A framework developed from research done in high-income countries, called ‘the 5C model of the drivers of vaccine hesitancy’, provides five main individual person–level determinants for vaccine hesitancy:
- Convenience (or constraints)
- Risk calculation
- Collective responsibility
Questions raised by vaccine hesitancy
- To end the pandemic, wherein no one is safe until everyone is safe, how relevant and strong are the arguments on freedom of choice?
- How is the fight against this global crisis impacted when prominent personalities assert on making a choice contrary to global good?
- Amid the raging pandemic and the persistent threat of future waves, how can vaccine scepticism and hesitancy be addressed worldwide?
Why is it a cause of concern?
- Re-surging of covid cases: Amid the ongoing Omicron surge, there have been reports pointing to the unvaccinated population driving the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe and US.
- Risk of future waves and danger mutations: Large scale vaccine hesitancy could drag the pandemic longer by ensuring sustained continuance of the COVID-19 diseases and emergence of newer and deadlier variants.
Various causes for vaccine hesitancy
- Scepticism: There are many reasons for vaccine scepticism. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific varying across time, place and vaccines.
- Fake news: The conspiracy theories on social media have brought negative publicity for vaccination. These seem to have created propaganda against the vaccines.
- Malfunctions: The sensational highlighting of vaccine fatalities event by the media is driving vaccine hesitancy to some extent.
- Myths and beliefs: In some places radical religious factors have driven vaccine hesitancy resulting in myth against vaccines. This is also a leading factor of prevalence of Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Policy fluctuations: The frequent flip-flops by governments on the vaccination issue have resulted in a low trust among the general populace regarding vaccination.
- Public trust: Vaccine hesitancy is also influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence.
With no “one-size-fits-all” solution to vaccine hesitancy, contextualised and curated approaches are crucial.
- Dispelling misinformation: There is the need to dispel all misinformation – unscientific, incorrect and unsubstantiated.
- Counselling: WHO has put forth the BeSD (behavioural and social drivers) vaccination model, which emphasises “motivation” as the vanguard of human psychology during a vaccination drive.
- Standard safeguards: The fact that vaccines meet the necessary safety standards set by the various organizations needs to be highlighted.
- Vaccine equality: There is the need to ensure access of affordable, quality and timely vaccines to all.
- Highlighting success: Countries must highlight the success observed due to the vaccination programmes, wherein despite rapid rise in cases the hospitalization and death rates remain within controllable limits.