The Centre on Monday instructed States and Union Territories in a letter to take penal action against those spreading misinformation about the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines currently in circulation. Any such persons or organisations should be punished under the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code, it said.
Concerned that "unfounded and misleading rumours" are circulating in the social media and creating doubt about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, Bhalla stated that there was a need to check such scare mongering.
"I would like to strongly emphasize that the National Regulatory Authority in the country has found both the vaccines safe and immunogenic" the letter stated. The Centre was also concerned over "rumour mongering by vested interests" , which could create doubts among the people at large. The letter further urged the state governments to counter the spread of misinformation and also disseminate factual messages.
The Disaster Management Act 2005 was implemented during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic across the country. Sections of the law have provisions for punishment for making false claims. For issuing false warnings, there could be imprisonment for a year or fines.
India initiated the rollout of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Oxford and AstraZeneca's Covishield, developed by Serum Institute of India, on January 16. Hesitancy to take the shot, however, remains. Some doctors have expressed doubts about Covaxin, which was given approval for emergency use without efficacy data from late-stage clinical trials. The government has said it is safe and effective.
In a survey conducted by New Delhi-based online platform LocalCircles, 62% of 17,000 respondents were hesitant to get vaccinated immediately, mainly due to worries over possible side-effects. The government has reported hospitalisation from side effects in only 0.002% of vaccine recipients.
Vaccine hesitancy, coupled with glitches in the CO-WIN app which is being used for registrations, has resulted in India missing its targets. The government has said it expected a greater number of volunteers, especially in major states such as Tamil Nadu and Punjab, which are lagging behind other states.
Allaying fears of adverse effects, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had said that the vaccines have been subjected to the best scientific scrutiny and approval has been granted by experts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged people to refrain from falling prey to the rumours and myths around the vaccines. "Our vaccine developers have a global credibility. Life-saving vaccines given to 60% children globally are made in India," he said.