According to reports, only 85 lakh children have been covered in the immunisation drive so far.

TN govt wants to make Measles Rubella vaccine mandatory is that legal We ask experts
news Vaccination Wednesday, March 01, 2017 - 18:09

Facing stiff opposition from parents regarding the administration of the MR (Measles-Rubella) vaccine for children under the age of 15 in Tamil Nadu, Health Minister C Vijaya Baskar has said that the government will make the vaccine mandatory in the state.

This means that even if the parents are not willing to give their child the vaccine, the state can do so. 

"Several school managements have needlessly sought consent of parents. Children, who had not received the consent, did not get the vaccine. This has been a major hurdle in the mass vaccination drive. The Public Health Act allows us to administer vaccine without consent. If need be, we will make it mandatory," the Times of India quoted the minister as saying. 

Even though many medical practitioners have said that the vaccine is necessary and will not cause any issues, there is widespread fear among parents about it.

Rumours about the vaccine causing side-effects and being used on an experimental basis on Indian children have been doing the rounds on WhatsApp and other social media. Despite clarifications that the vaccine has been manufactured by an Indian company based in Pune, the fear has not died down, exposing the people's trust deficit in the government. 

Although the health minister categorically denied these claims in a previous interview given to TNM, the government machinery has not been able to communicate the message convincingly to the parent body. 

However, is it legally possible for the government to vaccinate children without parental consent? 

According to A Sirajudeen, Senior Advocate, the Public Health Act does not permit the government to vaccinate anyone compulsorily. "The Act only permits the government to intervene when a person is infected by a contagious disease and poses a threat to the rest of the population. In the case of healthy people, the government cannot force them to take a vaccination," he says.

Nevertheless, Sirajudeen adds that the government can employ Parens Patriae doctrine, which is the obligation of the state "to protect and take into custody the rights and privileges of its citizens for discharging its obligations."

This is applicable to "minor, insane, and incompetent persons". So, even if parents don't want to vaccinate a child, the state can employ Parens Patriae doctrine in the interest of the child's welfare. 

However, Senior Advocate Sudha Ramalingam says that the government can implement mandatory vaccination through the Public Health Act itself since the Act permits intervention for disease prevention, too, and not only cure.

"It is for the greater good," Sudha says. "There are also guidelines for people who want to enter India - which precautionary injections they should take, like vaccination against TB etc, and so on. So this is already there. We also abide by the WHO conventions - so for the greater good and to ensure the welfare of the people, vaccines are essential."

Whichever be the legal option ahead of the government, it's important to ask if such a move to forcibly administer a vaccine in a situation of paranoia is a wise decision. 

The drive, which was supposed to be completed by end of February, has been extended for the next 15 days because only 85 lakh children have reportedly been covered. 

With the health and education departments scrambling to convince parents so late into the campaign about the necessity of the MR vaccine, it remains to be seen what effect the government's move to make the vaccine mandatory will have. 

Speaking on the issue of compulsory vaccination, Dr Bruno, a surgeon from Chennai had said, "There are many different approaches in vaccination. One is Pulse Coverage in which everyone is given the vaccine irrespective of whether he/she has got it before or not. Pulse Polio is a good example for this. The other approach is to give only to those who have not got it. The Director of Public Health comes up with the policy based on their assessment of the situation." 

He was of the firm view that parents must not be given a choice in the matter. "Just because you have bought a car, you cannot drive it at 200 km per hour inside Chennai or drive after consuming alcohol. Rubella can cause Congenital Rubella Syndrome, where the child will be blind, deaf and have a problem in heart. Measles can affect the child's brain,” he said.

The health minister could not be reached for his comments. 

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