The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked state governments to check the spread of misinformation regarding safety and immunogenicity of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates and advised them to take penal action against those who are found to be involved in dissemination of wrong and ill-informed rumours.
In a letter to chief secretaries of all states and union territories, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that the National Regulatory Authority has found the vaccines - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India - were safe and immunogenic. He further said that "unfounded and misleading rumours are circulating in the social and other media creating doubt about the safety and efficacy".
"Such kind of rumour-mongering, particularly by vested interests, can create unwarranted doubts among people at large, and there is, therefore, a need to check all such kinds of unfounded scare mongering relating to the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccines," read the letter dated January 19, 2021.
Bhalla urged the states and UTs to put in place an appropriate mechanism to check the spread of such ill-informed rumours. He asked the chief secretaries to direct all the authorities concerned under the state government to take appropriate necessary measures to counter the spread of all such kind of "false information" about COVID-19 vaccines as well as promptly disseminate factual messages.
"Further, penal action may be taken against the person/s or organisation/s who is/ are found to have indulged in such activities, under the relevant provisions of the Disaster Management Act. 2005, and the Indian Penal Code, 1860," he said.
The central government, in close collaboration with the state governments and UT administrations, has launched the COVID-19 vaccination drive from January 16 across the country with two vaccines. To address queries on COVID-19 vaccination, the government has developed the Co-WIN portal and has also launched national helpline number 1075 and state helpline 104. Healthcare workers and frontline workers are being inoculated in Phase 1 as per the priority decided by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), and subsequently the priority groups 2 and 3 will be vaccinated.