By LE Staff

New Delhi, June 23, 2021: A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court assailing the Centre’s policy to allocate 25 per cent vaccines out of the total procurement to private hospitals. 

The petition was filed yesterday in the form of an intervention application in the ongoing suo motu monitoring of the Covid situation by the top court. The two petitioners are John Brittas, Rajya Sabha MP and journalist from Kerala (who was media adviser to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in his first term when the state’s Covid management had made headlines worldwide), and R. Ramakumar, professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Citing extensive data, the plea submitted that vaccine prices in the country are higher than even in the US.

It also said that if not withdrawn, the policy to give 25 per cent vaccines to private hospitals would render the present vaccination campaign “incomplete, inequitable, inefficient and opaque” and create a wide chasm between the rich and the poor.

The petition also raised questions about the government’s ostensible objective of vaccinating the entire country’s population by December 31, 2021, pointing out that only 3.5 per cent had been fully immunised according to the available data in mid-June.

In a stinging rebuke on June 2, the apex court had described as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” the Centre’s policy of limiting free Covid vaccination only to those aged 45 and above. Subsequently, on June 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a change in the policy. Under the new policy, the Centre will procure 75 per cent of the vaccines for free immunisation of all adults at government centres while the remaining 25 per cent has been set aside for private hospitals for paid doses.

The petitioners, seeking a directive to the Centre to take over 100 per cent procurement of the vaccines, have raised the many contentions through their advocate Resmitha R. Chandran. 

Citing data, the plea states that selling 25 per cent of the total monthly production of vaccines to the private sector will in effect create reservation for the rich and urban population, adding that the private sector’s role has been limited primarily to the high-income states.

It also raises objections to the price variations in the different available vaccines. “… a person availing two doses has to pay Rs 2,820 for Covaxin, Rs 1,560 if he avails Covishield and Rs 2,290 for Sputnik. This is in clear disadvantage to the people of India and to the excessive advantage for the vaccine manufacturers to create excessive profits,” the petition said.

The petitioners expressed scepticism over the Centre’s stated objective of vaccinating 100 crore persons above the age of 18 years, requiring about 200 crore doses, by December 2021.

The plea pointed out that the revised guidelines do not speak about vaccines for children and the preparedness of the government in the event of a third wave of Covid-19.

According to the petitioners, unless the Centre takes over 100 per cent procurement and makes doses available to all through private and public hospitals through a proper regulatory authority under the top court’s monitoring, the Covid vaccination policy would “continue to remain incomplete, inequitable, inefficient and opaque”.

“Therefore the immediate intervention of this Hon’ble Court is inevitable in making the vaccines accessible & available for all the people in India through a transparent procedure and thereby to enhance the trust of the people in their safety in the system,” the petition said.

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