The Supreme Court expressed reservations on the central government’s revised vaccination policy on Friday.
He said that once the vaccination program was opened to people other than the 45 and over age group, it would not make sense to impose on state governments the obligation to procure vaccines for the age group 18-44 years.
“This will leave it up to each state government to negotiate supply schedules, delivery points and other logistical arrangements with manufacturers, among other things. At present, there are only two manufacturers for the authorized vaccines (with another vaccine – Sputnik V, in the course of manufacture), underlined a bench directed by the judge DY Chandrachud.
The bench which also included Judges L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat said the Center should take responsibility for providing advice to each state on the quantities to be supplied, the allocated vaccine (s), the delivery period and the number of people who can be covered for vaccination, among other details.
“Letting state governments negotiate directly with manufacturers will create chaos and uncertainty. The aim of the vaccination of the 18-44 age group cannot be achieved in the absence of available stocks ”, declared the court.
He also expressed reservations about the Centre’s vaccine pricing policy, stressing that all vaccines, whether 50% purchased by the central government or the remaining 50%, should be used to immunize citizens. “The end user is the same”.
In accordance with the policy, the central government offers to purchase half of the total quantity included in its 50% quota, while for the rest, manufacturers would declare the price to be fixed in advance, allowing state governments to negotiate their terms.
The court said it is likely that forcing state governments to negotiate with manufacturers on the grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive to new vaccine makers would result in serious harm to those in the group. age 18 to 44, who will be vaccinated by the states.
“The social strata of this age group also include people who are Bahujan or who belong to other disadvantaged and marginalized groups, like many other age groups of the population. They may not have the capacity to pay, ”said the court.
“Whether essential vaccines will be made available to them will depend on the decision of each state government, on the basis of its own finances, whether the vaccine should be made available free of charge or subsidized and, in this case, ‘affirmative, to what extent. This will create disparities across the country, ”the court said.
The court pointed out to the Center that the vaccines provided to citizens were a valuable public good.
“Discrimination cannot be made between different categories of citizens who find themselves in a similar situation on the grounds that if the central government will bear the burden of providing free vaccines for the population 45 years and over, the state governments will discharge themselves. responsibility for 18 to 44 year olds. age group on commercial terms that they can negotiate, ”he said.
So the court said At first glance, the rational method of proceeding in a manner consistent with the right to life (which includes the right to health) under section 21 would be for the central government to procure all vaccines and negotiate the price with the manufacturers vaccines.
“Once the quantities are allocated by him to each state government, the latter would lift the allocated quantities and proceed with the distribution,” the court said.
In other words, the court explained, while procurement would be centralized, the distribution of vaccines across India within states and Union territories would be decentralized.
He therefore asked the Center to consider reviewing its current vaccine policy to ensure that it withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The court also asked the Center to clarify the following points in order to ensure the protection of the fundamental rights to equality and to life and personal freedom of all people who will be eligible to receive the vaccine from May 1. 2021:
- If central and state governments have launched initiatives to ensure immunization for people who do not have access to digital resources, otherwise the mandatory requirement of registration on the Co-WIN digital portal for people aged 18 to 44 years will deprive a large class of citizens of vaccination;
- Given that the central government is committed to vaccinating people over 45, free of charge, given their vulnerability, if walk-in facilities for vaccination will continue for these people after May 1, 2021;
- Are central or state governments proposing to undertake targeted vaccination campaigns for people providing assistance on the ground during the second wave of the pandemic – such as crematorium workers, who were not considered to be frontline workers or health workers for phase 1 of the vaccination campaign;
- If, and if so what, the measures taken by INYAS, the national mass awareness campaign for COVID-19 vaccination, to ensure awareness in rural areas and socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society, including the ability to use mobile vans, vehicles and railroads to vaccinate these people as well as those who live in remote areas, near their doorstep to minimize their travel and potential infection with COVID2019. Efforts should also be made to ensure that the lack of proof of identity does not create an obstacle to the process of immunizing all individuals, in particular disadvantaged people;
- Will the central government reverse its policy by purchasing 100% of the doses which can then be distributed equitably to state governments? and
- As vaccine administration is now a shared responsibility of the Union and the States, the central government and the state governments must provide: (a) a breakdown of the current and planned availability of vaccine stocks for the next 6 months; and (b) a schedule for completing the vaccination of the newly eligible 59 crores who are between 18 and 44 years of age.
These issues, the court said, were of vital importance, as vaccination appears to be one of the most important strategies to tackle the further spread of the pandemic, and would also provide a measure of safety and ensure populations their health and well-being. being.
The article was originally published in The booklet.