India high court holds failure to provide second dose of Covid vaccine violates right to life

The High Court of Karnataka in India observed Thursday that not providing a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would amount to a violation of the right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar has issued the order in a writ petition seeking judicial intervention on COVID-19 related matters.

The court noted that there was a shortage of vaccine doses for providing second doses for nearly 1.9 million people in the state and raised concern over the authorities’ failure to abide by stipulated timelines for administering the second dose. India’s vaccination drive for most parts has comprised of the COVAXIN vaccine by Bharat Biotech and COVISHIELD vaccine by Oxford and AstraZeneca. As per the government of India’s submissions, the second dose of the COVAXIN vaccine is recommended to be administered after four to six weeks, and the COVISHIELD is recommended to be administered after six to eight weeks of the first dose. As per the figures by the Karnataka state government, even if it receives 4 million doses by the second half of May, it will not be sufficient to give a second dose to all those who have received the first dose till now.

In India, the right to health has been firmly interpreted as an integral part of the right to life.

The court observed that more than 0.8 million people will not get their second dose on the given day and held that:

There cannot be any distinction between the words “due” and “overdue” when it comes to administration of the second dose. Once as per the existing timelines, the second dose is due, it is an obligation of the Governments to ensure that the second dose is provided. If the second dose is not provided, it will be a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The court also observed that if citizens are required to take the first dose of the vaccine again, it will be a great waste of vaccine doses to the nation, which is currently struggling to secure meet the vaccine demand.