The West Bengal government has filed a plea in the Supreme Court, demanding free vaccination against Novel Coronavirus for the entire country.
The affidavit was yesterday filed in the case, where the Supreme Court has taken Suo Motu Cognisance for the distribution of essential supplies and services during pandemic.
The plea said, “The Covid-19 vaccination policy must be underpinned by the principle that we are as strong as our weakest link. A single person deprived of vaccination would be to the collective detriment of a large section of society.” Therefore, not a single person should be left without administering vaccination, it added.
The petition contended that Article 21 of the Constitution provides Right to Life and also covers the under-marginalised, poor people of the country, who cannot afford vaccine. Hence, the Central Government should make the vaccine of Covid-19 free of cost.
The plea highlighted, “Currently, only 1.54 percent of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated and only around 8.4 percent of the population has received one dose of the vaccine. If India wants to cover at least 80 percent of its eligible population, or 80 percent of the population above 18 years of age by the end of this year, then it must increase its vaccination rate by about 100 million or 13 doses per month.
“At the current rate of vaccination, which is about 2.2 million doses administered per day, only 30 percent of the eligible population will be vaccinated fully by the end of this year. Therefore, the immediate singular objective of the Government of India ought to be to take drastic steps to achieve universal coverage at the earliest,” it added.
To expedite the process of vaccination, the plea urged that the current differential pricing mechanism should be removed.
Giving the example of Western countries, who were vaccinating their population free of cost, the plea said, “Vaccines must be considered as a ‘public good’ and therefore, should be free of cost for the public at the time of an unprecedented crisis and cannot be reduced to a market commodity.
“Assistance to States to combat infectious diseases is the Government of India’s constitutional duty; In recognition of this duty and because of the wide externalities that infectious diseases entail, the Government of India has always supplied vaccines for States under all National Infectious Disease Control Programmes. The Government of India under the time-tested Universal Immunisation Programmes (‘UIP’) has provided vaccines to the States for free or subsidised distribution,” it added.
It said the Government of India has already allocated Rs. 35,000 core in Budget 2021 for the Covid-19 vaccination programme. It has been acknowledged by the Government of India that this amount would be sufficient to fully vaccinate (including logistic costs) a total of 50 crore Indians by taking a higher estimate of Rs 700/- as the cost for two doses. The current price for each Covid-19 vaccine dose negotiated between the Government of India and the two vaccine producers is much lower at Rs. 150/- per dose.
Therefore, if the Government of India is directed to intervene and undertake universal coverage, the said budgetary allocation is sufficient for procuring the vaccines required to fully vaccinate the entire country. Such a step would be in accordance with time-tested 15 vaccination programmes implemented for the last 73 years, said the petition.
In fact, if the Government of India places an order of one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines in one single tranche, it will result in economies of scale and ensure that the vaccine producers are able to sustain their operations and make a fair profit, it added.