The Centre on Sunday told the Supreme Court that the policy, strategy and steps in regards to the coronavirus vaccination are based on expert medical and scientific advice and urged it against any “judicial interference”, reported Bar and Bench.
“Any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences, in absence of any expert advice or administrative experience, leaving the doctors, scientists, experts and executive very little room to find innovative solutions on the go,” the Centre said.
The government made the submission in an affidavit filed in a suo motu case initiated by the Supreme Court to examine matters relating to coronavirus management in the country.
The Supreme Court had earlier asked the Centre to revisit its vaccine procurement policy, saying “the manner in which the current policy has been framed would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health, which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
In its affidavit, the Centre stated that its vaccination policy was framed to ensure equitable distribution, considering the limited availability of the shots and that inoculating the entire country was not possible in one go.
It said that the policy is thus just, non-discriminatory and based upon “intelligible differentiating factor” between the age groups of citizens above 45 years and those below it.
“[The] policy thus, conforms to mandate of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the government said.
The affidavit also stated that the differential pricing of the vaccines was done to boost the coverage of the immunisation programme, incentivise vaccine manufacturers to enhance their production and to attract new vaccine manufacturers. The statement came after the Supreme Court had flagged the matter of differential pricing and asked the government not to leave it to the manufacturers to decide on the cost.
As part of the third phase of the coronavirus vaccination drive, India has allowed manufacturers to sell 50% of their vaccine doses to state governments and private hospitals. The manufacturers will have to supply the other half to the Centre.
While the manufacturers – Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech – are selling the vaccine to the Centre at Rs 150 per dose, they are charging Rs 300 and 400 to states. The Serum Institute is charging private hospitals Rs 600 per dose and Bharat Biotech is selling it at Rs 1,200.
In its affidavit, the Centre said that while all states are procuring vaccines themselves, the central government has ensured that the price of the doses was uniform for all of them to avoid any disparity.
The government also contended that citizens in the age group of 18 to 44 years are also getting vaccination free of cost as all the state governments have announced free vaccination for this population group of 18-44 years.
On the suggestion to invoke compulsory licensing of provisions under the Patents Act to ensure availability of vaccines and drugs, the Centre said that the main problem currently is the availability of raw materials and essential inputs. Compulsory licensing is when a government allows someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner or plans to use the invention itself, according to the World Trade Organization.
The government also said that India’s drug regulator has granted emergency use authorisation to Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V and it would now be available for use.
“Many other candidates are in the late stages of clinical trials and, therefore, expected to receive necessary approval that would further increase the availability of vaccine,” it was further stated.
India is reporting an alarming number of coronavirus cases. The second wave of the pandemic has put India’s health structure under severe strain, leading to shortages of beds, medicines, vaccines and especially oxygen.
On Monday, India registered 3,66,161 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the tally of infections in the country to 2,26,62,575 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. With 3,754 deaths, the toll climbed to 2,46,116. There are 37,45,237 active cases and 1,86,71,222 patients have recovered from the infection so far.