The Kerala High Court has ruled that individuals who pay for the Serum Institute-manufactured Covishield coronavirus-resisting vaccine have the right to choose whether to get the second dose any time after four weeks from the first dose but before the 84-day interval prescribed by the union government.
Justice PB Suresh Kumar, heading a single-judge bench, issued the order allowing early administration of the second dose, noting that vaccination being voluntary indicated that the interval required by the government could only be considered an advisory.
“The fact that the vaccination is voluntary and there is no compulsion on anyone to accept the same is declared by the Government of India in the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. If that be so, the requirement to administer two doses of the vaccine and the time interval between the two doses for better protection from infection can only be considered as advisory”, the Kerala HC said.
Therefore, the court held that there was no reason for the State to stand in the way especially considering its own policy that people shall have the choice to get the vaccine early by paying for it at private hospitals.
“It is all the more so since the policy of the central government itself is, as discernible from the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, that the people shall have the choice to get early vaccination, for the implementation of which vaccine is being distributed on payment of its cost through private hospitals as well,” the order stated.
The Kerala High Court directed the union government to immediately make necessary provisions in the CoWIN portal, so as to enable scheduling of a second dose of Covishield vaccine after four weeks of the first dose for those who want to accept the second dose after a period of four weeks in terms of the initial protocol of the vaccine.
The court passed the order keeping in mind the fact that the union government had relaxed the interval for Indian government officials with commitments abroad, persons needing to travel abroad for studies or employment, those participating at the Olympic Games etc.
During the previous hearing of the case, the Kerala High Court had taken strong objection to the submission of the union government counsel that the petition is not maintainable as the petitioners did not make any representation to the union government before approaching the court.
“The stand taken by the union government cannot be accepted, for, as indicated, the very premise on which the present writ petition is instituted is that the decision of the Government in providing relaxation in the protocol regarding (the) administration of (the) second dose of vaccine to certain classes of persons alone amounts to discrimination and the directions sought are directions to extend to the petitioners the same relief”
The Kerala High Court clarified that it had not, however, considered the question of whether a person is entitled to make a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid–19 infection in the matter of accepting the free vaccine provided by the government.
The order was passed on a plea by Kitex Garments Limited seeking to administer the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine to its employees without waiting for the 84-day time gap between two doses as they had already purchased a sufficient stock of vaccine
Advocate Blaze K Jose, appearing for the petitioner, had contended that though the government has changed the policy on an interval from 4 weeks to 6 weeks to 84 days and has relaxed it for certain persons, they shouldn’t be prevented from administering the second dose to their employees at the earliest possible time.
The union government had told the court that the gap between doses was prescribed based on the technical recommendation given by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 that the extended gap would offer maximum protection from the virus.