The Central Government defends vaccination policy before the Supreme Court saying that the policy was formulated after several rounds of discussions with experts, State Govts and vaccine manufacturers.
In the affidavit filed by Govind Mohan as Additional Secretary, in the Ministry of Home Affairs contended that the policy was framed keeping in mind limited availability of vaccines, the vulnerability of age groups, and the fact that vaccinating the entire country was not possible in one go due to the suddenness of the pandemic, as the prime considerations.
The Central informed the Apex Court that the differential pricing of coronavirus vaccines is intended to create an incentivised demand for private producers, resulting in market-driven low prices.
The Centre also stated that the price factor would have no effect on the ultimate beneficiary, i.e. the individual who is qualified to receive the vaccine, since all state governments have already announced their policy decision that each state will provide vaccine to its citizens at no cost.
The Centre said that in the times of such grave and unprecedented crisis which the nation is fighting the disaster of an unprecedented magnitude, the executive functioning of the government needs the discretion to formulate policy in the larger interest.
In an affidavit in a suo motu case initiated by the apex court over Covid-19 management in the country, the center said that “In the context of a global pandemic, where the response and strategy of the nation is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, there is even little room for judicial interference. 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 executives very little room to find innovative solutions on the go.”
“Any discussion, mention of exercise of statutory powers either for essential drugs or vaccines would have serious, severe and unintended on Centre’s efforts in other countries. In the current scenario, main constraint is in availability of raw materials any additional licenses may not result in increased production,” the affidavit said.
The Central Government has also stated that it is already utilising the health care workforce available with the armed forces and para military forces during the pandemic. Further, the plan for utilisation of the same for the purpose of vaccination are under active consideration and is being considered on need basis.
It was also by the Centre that its current vaccination strategy is to focus on priority areas and to allow enhanced production and further research and development to continue and expand with full potential without any real or perceived constrictions.
The Centre submitted that two vaccines are currently part of the vaccination drive since January 2021. Another COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V developed by Gamaleya Institute, Russia and distributed in partnership with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, has received Emergency Use Authorization by the National Regulator in April 2021 and would be available now. Many other candidates are in the late stages of clinical trials and, therefore, expected to receive 50 necessary approvals that would further increase the availability of vaccines.
Centre has said that all citizens of all age groups will get free vaccination throughout the country, as all State Governments have announced free vaccination for group of 18- 44 years.
The affidavit added that “Sometimes, steps that are taken for immediate needs, to tide over an imminent crisis, may turn out to be imprudent in a long run. However, they need to be appreciated, understood and acknowledged, keeping in mind the complete strategy and policy and holistic picture of immediate-, medium- and long-term needs, while also retaining the capacity to remain dynamic to deal with an ever-mutating virus, whose exact graph cannot be predicted with accuracy and continuous upgradation of knowledge pool with further experience and research.”
Earlier , On April 30, A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhatt while hearing a suo motu matter in connection with COVID-19 management issues, had called for revisiting the Centre’s vaccine policy.
The Apex court had remarked that 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.