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Tennis player Novak Djokovic’s recent refusal to accept compulsory vaccination for Covid-19 before playing or travelling has given a boost to global anti-vaxxer groups who have been blamed as anti-science.

While such groups are not active in India, does the legal framework here give the government the power to enforce compulsory vaccination?

Multiple options for the government

Any step towards compulsory vaccination has to be premised on larger public interest. While a person may feel confident about not requiring vaccination because she believes she can fight off the disease, it will not stop her from infecting others who might be from high-risk category. Thus, vaccination in relation to infectious diseases is not simply about choosing what is good for one’s own body and can be construed as an obligation for the sake of public health.

As a legislative measure, Parliament and state legislatures can always enact a specific law incorporating such an obligation. Something similar was done by the British government to deal with the smallpox epidemic through the Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1892.

If the governments want to adopt an executive measure, there are various existing laws that enable them to take such a step. The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 empowers state governments to take whatever measures necessary to prevent the outbreak or spread of an epidemic disease. While the exercise of this power is subject to the state government’s satisfaction that the existing laws are not sufficient to deal with the epidemic, it would not be excessive for them to take such a step to deal with the biggest health crisis of the century.


Also read: How coronavirus vaccines can reach the market faster with the right incentives


The National Disaster Management Act of 2005 vests wide powers with the national authority and the national executive committee created under the Act. The range of powers (section 6 and 10) is such that it would be possible for these authorities to mandate compulsory vaccination through appropriate departments in the state governments and the central government. The central government can also enforce such a measure through section 62 of the Act.

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Another way the governments can enforce compulsory vaccination is to impose high costs on refusing vaccination without necessarily making it illegal. For example, under the Passport Act of 1967, the government can either refuse the issuance of a passport or revoke an issued passport in relation to any person who refuses to be vaccinated. In relation to immunisation for Covid-19, the government can explain its action on the grounds of maintaining friendly relations with other countries or in the interest of general public. The government can also impose restrictions on accessing public employment or create disqualifications to accessing welfare benefits in the absence of vaccination.

The central government can impose a requirement of vaccination on anybody wishing to enter India. For example, resident-nationals from polio-infected countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, etc. are not allowed to enter India unless they have been vaccinated. The United States also imposes such requirements in relation to a variety of diseases. So, nothing can stop the government from imposing a requirement of Covid-19 vaccination for anybody wishing to enter India.


Also read: Djokovic right to be anti-vaxxer. Federer or Kohli didn’t just wake up one day as champions


Equal access to vaccines critical

While not fueled by organised anti-vaxxer groups, there have been concerns regarding vaccine hesitancy in India in the last decade, which has seen the reemergence of eradicated diseases like diphtheria. There was also strong resistance to polio vaccination in some parts of India. Much of the community hesitancy towards vaccine in India seems to be primarily based on mistrust towards public healthcare institutions and ignorance regarding the science of vaccination.

There are two legal grounds that can be raised in India if the government makes Covid 19 vaccine compulsory — right to privacy and the right to religious freedom. It needs to be noted that the right to practice religion is subject to any restriction that may be imposed on account of public order, morality and health. Similarly, the Supreme Court in the case of K.S Puttaswamy v Union of India has quite clearly held that the right to privacy is not an absolute right and may be curtailed as long as the procedure is fair, just and reasonable and as long as the proportional restrictions further a legitimate state aim. So, there is sufficient constitutional leeway for the government to claim the power to enforce compulsory vaccination.

However, in order for such a measure to be constitutional, it would be important for the state to facilitate free and accessible vaccination for the marginalised population. Equal access to vaccination is critical and economic disparity and social marginalisation should not be impediments in any mechanism put in place.

The author is a faculty at National Law University Odisha and has recently completed his Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship from Harvard Law School. Views are personal.

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9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. Did any one hear about Vaccine Injury Compensation Program? You won’t. Even if you die, from this vaccine developed in a short time, bypassing many safety standards, you won’t get anything. The vaccine lobby makes any question about safety, misinformation.
    Vaccine companies has already been exempted from product loability in some countries. In India the recent change in law exempt Hospitals from the Consumer law, and the case wont come in consumer court.
    Is this article part of a lobbying for compulsory vaccination for a manipulated disease, which is otherwise mild?
    Bill Gates plan is imposed?

  2. “While a person may feel confident about not requiring vaccination because she believes she can fight off the disease, it will not stop her from infecting others who might be from high-risk category.”

    Why don’t the high-risk category people take the vaccine? Wouldn’t that prevent them from getting infected?

  3. Nobody in the universe has a right to impinge upon a person’s sovereignity, govts is here to work 4 for the ppl not against their opinion. To take or not take vaccine is my choice not the govts of media’s or the doctors or the actors or the pharma companies choice.

  4. I will take a Vaccine, where the Government Pledges it will provide an Insurance of 10 Crores in case I develop a medical problem because of it and a 100 Crores if I die because of it within 5 years of taking this vaccine. If you have the authority, you must have responsibility. Else it is nothing more than a cloaked dictatorship.
    People who feel endangered can still take the vaccine, their choice. Why enforce it on someone who doesnt feel the need or who as an immune system? I agree there are many people made of cardboad box, but I am 100% God Made Fit. No Vaccine needed.

  5. This is the new excuse they have…
    “Its not about the vaxxer but he has to take it for the general good of the public.. ”

    If they care so much, then when a smoker smokes, stop him smoking as it affects my lungs….

    When a factory throws pullutants in the water, stop that, as it affects general public health….

    Stop the sale of highly processed food, as that affects genenral public health..

    I dont see those being enforced, inspite of those diseases killing way way more people every year… but 1 infective disease with a 99% recovery rate needs to be eradicated by a vaccine which in all likelihood will not work and produce 10 new diseases in my body with its toxic contents..

    So ridiculous.. Responsible journalism seems to be lost.. common sense seems to be lost..

    • There must be a legal way to stay out of it without technically “endangering” the sheep or no??? Or are we really fucked to a level we can not recover from?

    • There must be a legal way to stay out of it without technically “endangering” the sheep or no??? Or are we really so far gone to a level we can not recover from?

    • Darned right. Just refuse it and take em to court. It needs to be fought with morality the best we can. Next time they will Chip your body. Its step by step.

  6. Are you even aware of the effects and contents of vaccines? Will you declare the contents to public?
    What law is being laid down to make sure the vaccines have been tried and tested and no adverse effects will happen for the next 40-50 years?
    What is the accountability of govt and big pharma of the adverse affects of vaccines?
    Will you take responsibility?

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