COVID-19 Vaccines for Children in India: Legal Perspective
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
By Ramayni Sood, a 4th Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Amity Law School, Delhi
The #COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it times where child rights have been completely neglected. Children in India are battling against the deadly coronavirus in addition to the stress of coping with online education in these circumstances, where many are losing family members and close relatives. It is noticeable that the government and educationists in India have been functioning according to their whimsical timelines while dealing with child-related issues. For instance, recently, board examinations for Class 10 and 12 students across the country were cancelled after the students were left on a cliffhanger for months. Another such issue that's been overlooked is the lack of clarity on vaccination for children below the age of 18 years. The government of India has systematically allowed vaccinations for different age groups since January 2021. Most recently, people between the ages of 18 and 45 were made eligible to get vaccinated. One can note a hierarchy that the government has followed. The vaccination drive started with the most vulnerable groups; first, the health care workers, whom people above 60 years followed, and those with co-morbidities. However, there is little clarity regarding the status of vaccines for children below 18 years in India. Are they not vulnerable?
When one looks at the issue of lack of clarity on vaccines for children, it seems like a standalone health-related concern. However, when it is seen in the backdrop of prevailing circumstances since March 2020, one realizes that it has far more profound implications than acknowledged. It is a chain; non-vaccination implies continuity of social distancing norms that have been followed since the past year, like non-reopening of schools, that further leads to lack of socialization at the tender ages when children develop their personality. When this is coupled with the stress of online education, fear of the virus and the post-traumatic stress left by the deadly second wave in India, the situation of children can be termed precarious. Most Indian children face this stress coupled with the financial troubles of their families and the lack of resources to access online education. Thus, there is an undeniable effect of the non-vaccination of children on their mental health.
This article aims to analyze the various facets of the issue of non-vaccination of children and scrutinize the legal aspect of the efforts of the government to vaccinate children in India.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees every person a right to life as a fundamental right. Right to life does not mean mere survival or animal existence; instead, it has been accorded the widest interpretation by the Supreme Court. In cases such as State of Punjab v. Mohinder Singh Chawla and Others, it has been reiterated that the right to life includes within its ambit the right to health, which is an inherent and inescapable component of a dignified life. This right to health is not merely a remedy. It imposes an obligation on the State to ensure the existence of adequate public health provisions.
Part IV of the Indian Constitution enlists the Directive Principles of State Policy. It reflects the legislative intent to shape India as a welfare State. This implies that all State action must be directed towards achieving the goals enlisted in Part IV. However, as held in D.S Nakara and Others v. Union of India, only when the State successfully achieves the objectives under Part IV can we claim tha