‘Statutory regime’ for vaccines only as last resort, Centre tells SC

Krishnadas Rajagopal New Delhi | Updated on May 11, 2021

The Centre said its response and strategy are completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion that leaves little room for judicial interference .   -  SUDERSHAN V

Affidavit filed in the top court promises equitable allocation of vaccines to States

The government has shot down the idea of bringing vaccines under a statutory regime at this point of time. “Both manufacturers [one an Indian company and second a licensee of a British company] have taken financial risks in developing and manufacturing these vaccines and it is prudent to take a decisions on pricing through negotiations in a transparent consultative process keeping statutory provisions as a last resort,” the government said in the affidavit it filed before the Supreme Court.

The government said different vaccines were differentially priced to foster a competitive market and to attract manufacturers from abroad. This would increase the availability of vaccines in India.“Differential pricing is based on the concept of creating an incentivised demand for the private vaccine manufacturers in order to instil a competitive market resulting in higher production of vaccines and market driven affordable prices for the same,” the Centre defended its vaccination policy.

Trust the Executive

The Centre said its response and strategy are completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion that leaves little room for judicial interference. In view of the unprecedented circumstances under which the vaccination drive is devised as an executive policy, the “wisdom of the executive should be trusted”, it said.

In its 218-page affidavit filed late on Sunday night in the top court's suo motu case on Covid-19 management, the Centre promised equitable allocation of vaccines to the States. It said it has already determined, in consultation with the vaccine manufacturers, the State-wise ‘pro-rata’ population of those in the 18-44 target age. “Each State will procure only that quantity so that there is no disparity in availability of vaccines between the States inter-se either based upon difference in their bargaining power or otherwise,” the government pointed out. It said each State government has already been informed about the number of vaccines it would receive in May.

The Centre asked the States to maintain discipline and view India as “one unit”. The efforts to combat the virus should be “pan-Indian”. One State should not try to procure vaccine at the cost of others. Recently, the Mamata Banerjee government had criticised the Centre in the apex court on the differential vaccine pricing and how the Centre, at ₹150 per dose, had got a cheaper deal than the States. The West Bengal government had also pointed out how bigger States could negotiate better prices with the vaccine manufacturers, leaving smaller States with miniscule resources high-and-dry.

On ‘cheaper deal’

Explaining its ‘cheaper deal’, the Centre said it has a “large vaccination programme” and has to place “large purchase orders” for vaccines as opposed to the State governments and private hospitals. “Therefore, this reality has some reflection in the prices negotiated,” the Centre said.

As for bigger States getting the better of smaller ones on vaccine purchases, the Centre said it had had “informal consultations” with the vaccine manufacturers and ensured that the prices would be “uniform” for all the States. The Centre, however, said that citizens would not be affected by the pricing as all State governments have already declared that they would administer the vaccines free-of-cost. The affidavit also wants citizens who can afford it, to pay for their jabs at private hospitals, saying this would “facilitate better access and will reduce the operational stress on the government vaccination facilities”.

No luxury of time

The government pointed out that unlike the vaccination campaigns of past, the Covid immunisation drive did not have the “luxury” of time. Scientists, in those years, had the breathing space to research and develop. There was time to manufacture and distribute vaccines, unlike in the case of Covid-19, which crash-landed on humanity. The current need for vaccination is both “emergent and urgent”. Critics and experts have said the government has many a lesson to learn from the polio immunisation drive conducted decades ago.

“This drive to vaccinate each and every adult in the country is completely different from other vaccinations conducted by the country in the past in more than one way... The vaccines (for Covid) are developed very recently throughout the world and therefore, their production has also started very recently. Another peculiar feature of this vaccination is that the vaccine requires two doses, separated by four to eight weeks,” the government submitted in a 218-page affidavit filed in the Supreme Court.

Hearing adjourned

A three-judge Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud could not hear arguments on the affidavit due to technical glitches during the virtual session on Monday. The hearing was adjourned to Thursday..

Published on May 10, 2021

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