Central Government Defends Vaccine Policy In Supreme Court

Don’t get into the issue of compulsory licensing for essential drugs, central government says in an affidavit before Supreme Court

People wait in line a Covid-19 vaccination center at a municipal hospital in Pune. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
People wait in line a Covid-19 vaccination center at a municipal hospital in Pune. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

The differential pricing of the vaccines is aimed at incentivising private manufacturers and increasing availability of vaccines in the country, the central government has told the top court.

The government filed its affidavit last night in response to the Supreme Court’s queries around the vaccine policy. While the apex court had made it clear that it did not seek to replace the government’s policy with its own, the bench raised several concerns on the centre’s approach.

Leaving the state governments to negotiate directly with manufacturers will produce chaos and uncertainty, the top court had said in its order on April 30.

‘Uniform Price Of Vaccine For All States’

The government has now told the court that it has carried out informal negotiations with the vaccine manufacturers and ensured a uniform price of vaccine for all states.

The end beneficiary, however, will not have to pay anything as the state governments have declared that they will provide free vaccinations to the people, the affidavit added.

Further, the affidavit said, the central government — by the nature of its large vaccination programme — places bulk orders for the vaccines as compared to states and private healthcare facilities and that reality has some reflection in the negotiated prices.

Currently, the central government is carrying out vaccination for healthcare workers, frontline workers and all those who are above 45+. The state governments and private healthcare facilities have been allowed to go ahead and open vaccination for the age group of 18-44. The central government gets 50% of the total vaccines being produced whereas the state and the private healthcare facilities get their share from the remaining 50%.

Vaccination through private sector of 25% quantity would facilitate better access and will reduce the operational stress on the government vaccination facilities as those who can afford to pay and prefer to go to a private hospital, would not come to government vaccination facilities reducing the crowd which can continue to serve the rest.
Centre's Affidavit In The Supreme Court
Supreme Court Sets Up National Task Force For Covid-19 Pandemic Response

Will Consider Walk-In Vaccination For 18-44 At A Later Stage’

Besides pricing, the top court had also asked the central government whether it has taken any measures for those who may not be able to make online registration which is currently mandatory for the age group of 18-44.

The government today told the court that the step was taken keeping in mind administrative factors as well as limited vaccine availability. Permitting walk-in facility for this age group will result in over-crowding at vaccination centres which can be avoided by prior online registration that grants specific time slots.

The government has also said that for those citizens who may not have access to digital resources such as the rural population, they can get their appointments through the common service centres in the gram panchayats.

Apart from that, citizens can also take help from family, friends and NGOs for the registration, said the affidavit.

The Who, What, When Of Vaccination In India: BQ Explains

Compulsory Licence: Working To Find A Solution, Said Centre

In an earlier hearing, the apex court had also suggested that the central government can consider invoking its powers under the Patents Act to grant compulsory licences for essential drugs in the time of the pandemic.

To this, the government said when it comes to the drug Remdesivir, the issue is more about the supply of raw materials than lack of manufacturing capacities.

Further, the government said it is engaging with global organisations on the issue of compulsory licences and urged the court not to delve into the issue at this point.

It is earnestly urged that any discussion or a mention of exercise of statutory powers either for essential drugs or vaccines having patent issues would have serious, severe and unintended adverse consequences in the countries where efforts are being made on global platform using all its resources, good-will and good-offices through diplomatic and other channels.
Centre's Affidavit In The Supreme Court

The case is being heard by a three-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat. The bench will hear the matter next on May 13.

U.S. to Back Waiver of Vaccine IP Protections at WTO, Tai Says