SC asks Centre why Covid vaccine can’t be give to all in national vaccination programme

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The Supreme Court Friday asked the Centre to consider the National Immunisation Programme for inoculating all citizens against the novel coronavirus free of cost, as the poor may not be able to pay for the vaccine.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud asked how the Centre and states are going to ensure vaccine registration of illiterate people. “What happens to the marginalised and SC/ST population? Should they be left to the mercy of private hospitals?” it asked.

The court also asked the Centre why there were different prices for vaccines proposed by manufacturers — Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech — for the Centre and states. While the Centre is required to spend Rs 150 per dose of vaccine, the states will have to spend Rs 300 and Rs 400 for SII’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, respectively.

The court said that private vaccine manufacturers cannot be allowed to decide which state should get how much. “Why should there be two prices? Why not follow the pattern of national immunisation program?” the court asked.

The court also sought to know if the walk-in facility for vaccination will continue after May 1. From May 2, the current vaccination drive against Covid-19 will be expanded to include the population between ages 18-45. So far, only those above 45 years of age were eligible for getting the jab.

India has a Universal Immunisation Programme, started in 1978, that provides several vaccines to infants, children and pregnant women in a phased manner.

Raising questions over steps taken by the Centre to manage the Covid-19 crisis, the bench suggested that a display mechanism must be put in place for real-time updates on oxygen supply from the Centre to the states.

However, the Centre claimed that there was no shortage of medical oxygen in the country and supply was being augmented for Covid-19 relief. Presenting a powerpoint presentation before the bench, the Centre said it has enhanced the production of oxygen in the country from about 6,000 MT per day in August 2020 to 9,000 MT per day till date.

The Centre’s presentation was in response to the top court’s direction on April 22 where it had said it expected the government to come out with a “national plan” to deal with the distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Delhi is not able to lift the oxygen quantity due to logistical issues.

To this, the court asked the Delhi government to cooperate with the Centre to deal with the ongoing Covid crisis.

“Politics is for election and at this time of humanitarian crisis each and every life needs to be taken care of. Please convey our message to highest level that they have to keep politics aside and talk to Centre,” the bench said.

It told senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, to ask the chief secretary to coordinate with central officials and sort out the problems in the national capital.

The apex court scheduled the next hearing in the matter on May 10, saying this needs substantial policy rethinking by the Centre.

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