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Friday, June 2, 2023

Madras HC entertains plea for Covishield vaccine to be declared ‘unsafe’, compensation of 5 crores

At a time when higher courts are burdened with a huge backlog of cases, they’ve been entertaining pleas which many observers find frivolous. Recently, Madras High Court issued notice to the Central government on a plea filed by a Chennai resident asking for the Covishield vaccine to be declared unsafe in addition to a compensation of INR 5 crores.

A 41-year-old Chennai man, who had volunteered during the third phase of Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield trials on October 1, had approached the Madras High Court with the plea claiming ‘loss of creativity and business’ after having received the trial dose.

SII in association with pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University has developed Covishield and along with Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin around 1 crore doses have already been administered throughout the country in the biggest vaccination program that began on January 16. Health Ministry communication has already indicated that Covishield could have mild side effects, which is common with many vaccines given for diseases other than Covid-19 too.

It is worth mentioning that SII had not only denied the claims made by the volunteer but also threatened to file a 100-crore lawsuit. The SII statement said:

“The COVISHIELD vaccine is safe and immunogenic. The incident with the Chennai volunteer though highly unfortunate was in no way induced by the vaccine and Serum Institute of India is sympathetic with the volunteer’s medical condition,” Serum Institute had said in its statement at the time. It also defended its legal notice to the volunteer, saying it wanted to “safeguard the reputation of the company which is being unfairly maligned.”

The Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) had already attested the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in its statement in which it had mentioned that a subject expert committee comprising of domain experts belonging to the fields of pulmonology, immunology, and pharmacology among others have given restricted emergency approval to the vaccines prepared by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech (BB).

Assuring that both vaccines are 110% safe, DGCI had said:

“We’ll never approve anything if there is slightest of safety concern. The vaccines are 110 percent safe. Some side effects like mild fever, pain, and allergy are common for every vaccine.”

The volunteer’s wife had denied having any ulterior motive for filing the plea while adding that compensation wasn’t important for them and that they merely wanted to make the public aware that the vaccine wasn’t safe. The couple had then approached the high court against SII.

It is, however, the proclivity of courts to intervene in matters that can easily be left to the competent authorities, like the DGCI or Indian Medical Association (IMA) in this case, that needs to be highlighted. As already pointed out, courts have been spending their valuable time on frivolous petitions such as the classification of Odomos, the need for straight roads, etc.

Then there is a slew of petitions filed by all and sundry for any matter under the sun. As Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had recently pointed out while speaking in the Lok Sabha during the motion to pass the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that there is a general tendency among the public to file PILs (Public Interest Litigations) and urged the courts to consider the importance of a petition before accepting it.

In this case, it would be understandable if the court had accepted the petitioner’s case on an individual basis and asked him to prove that his medical issue, over and above common side effects, is caused by the Covishield vaccine. It is also important to remember that the petitioner had volunteered for the vaccine trial program, and as such would have signed up to certain risks inherent in any trial. But by issuing notice to the Centre without even determining the validity of the petitioner’s individual case, the court has jumped the gun in its eagerness to be seen as a defender of individual rights and liberty, say legal observers.

It is important to remember that such precipitate examples of judicial overreach can also damage the nation’s vaccine diplomacy mission, which has been a huge success and seen many foreign nations request Bharat for the Covid-19 vaccine. Thus far, the SII has supplied vaccines to a number of foreign nations, including Brazil, Mexico and Canada, while spearheading Bharat’s anti-COVID-19 vaccination drive, which also includes Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

(Featured Image Source: India Legal Live)

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