When the misinformation ceases to be harmless, it invites for the law to step in. In one of its latest orders, the Union Home Secretary has come down heavily on those spreading rumours against vaccines.
The home secretary Ajay Bhalla has asked the state chief secretaries to put in place a mechanism to check the spread of misinformation when it comes to Covid vaccines and book those spreading such wrong information under the IPC and the Disaster Management Act.
"Penal action may be taken against the persons/organisations who are found to have indulged in such activities under the relevant provisions of the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code," says the latter dated January 19.
As per the home secretary, it has been brought to the notice that unfounded and misleading rumours were circulating in the social media and other media platforms that created doubts about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. "Such kind of rumour mongering particularly by vested interests can create unwarranted doubts among the people at large and there is therefore a need to check all such kinds of unfounded scare mongering relating to safety and immunogenicity of the vaccines," it said.
It must be recalled that India's drug regulator DGCI had on January 3 given emergency approval under controversial circumstances to two India-made vaccines --- Covishield from Serum Institute of India and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech.
Public doubt over the 'rushed' approval
Ever since the vaccines have been at whichever of the several stages of their research, public health experts and health workers have criticised the vaccines on several counts. Some have objected to the "rushed" approval being given to Covaxin for emergency use as the vaccine has not even cleared phase 3 trials yet and hasn't shown efficacy data. India's vaccination drive began on an ambitious note but on a bumpy start.
Public campaign to get the shot
The Union Health Ministry has launched a campaign across all platforms hoping to encourage and educate more people to take up vaccines. The campaign will not just encourage the masses to volunteer for vaccines but also counter rumours and misinformation around their safety and efficacy. "Government of India is taking all necessary steps to ensure that the vaccination drive is successful and the pandemic is eventually eradicated," the letter stated.
16 lakh done, many more to go
In the past week, during a virtual media press briefing, the official spokesperson on India's Vaccine Cooperation had said, "Currently two made-in-Indian vaccines are in production, there are four in the active clinical trial stage, while fifteen vaccines are in the pre-clinical stages."
India has so far vaccinated more than 16 lakh people. In phase 1, set to be completed by July, one crore healthcare workers will be inoculated followed by the 2 crore frontline workers, which includes police, armed forces and municipal workers. PM Modi, CMs are likely to get the vaccine in phase 2. In the third phase, those above 50 years of age and those with co-morbidities have been scheduled.
What do you mean by rumours exactly?
Sifting opinions from information is not an easy ask. Many let their fears out loud when they said, how the order could be used against even information or genuine opinions that are not in sync with the government's agenda.