On 2 May 2022, the Indian Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the country's vaccination policies. Although confirming that the Union’s vaccination policy was reasonable, the Court held that the vaccine mandates imposed by several States and Union Territories were disproportionate in the current context of both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals appearing to be susceptible to transmission of the virus at similar levels.
The Court clarified that no one can be forced to be vaccinated, as Article 21 of the Constitution protects bodily integrity, thus reaffirming the principle that self-determination on health treatments is a fundamental aspect of the right to life. However, having to balance fundamental interests, including the Union’s obligation to promote and improve public health, under Article 47 of the Constitution, States are entitled to introduce restrictions on non-vaccinated persons within the limits of reasonableness and non-arbitrariness and such restrictions must be subject to constitutional review. Such restrictions are acceptable only in the presence of three requirements designed to protect citizens from arbitrary government action: restrictions can only exist under a law, the law must have a legitimate purpose, and there must be proportionality between the means adopted and the purpose pursued. In the present case, States have not demonstrated through scientific data that vaccinated individuals transmit the virus less than unvaccinated ones, the restrictions imposed by the States appear disproportionate. As long as the infection rate remains low and new scientific evidence emerges, the court required “all authorities […], including private organisations and educational institutions, [to] review the relevant orders and instructions imposing restrictions on unvaccinated individuals in terms of access to public places, services and resources”. This does not preclude the authorities to take adequate and proportionate measures if the situation deteriorates. In fact, the Court suggested that in the context of the rapidly evolving situation presented by the pandemic, periodic review of vaccine mandates is required.
The Court also required the publication of the data and any new updates relating to the testing and adverse effects of vaccines. Although the results of Phase III clinical trials of the vaccines have already been published, ongoing clinical trials in this context shall be published without delay, according to the Court.