By LE Desk

Jaipur, April 29: The Rajasthan High Court has sought responses from the Centre, state and vaccine manufacturers on a petition challenging the liberalised pricing and accelerated national Covid-19 vaccination strategy which offers differential pricing for the central and state governments to purchase vaccines from the manufacturers. 

The court has set May 12 as the next date of hearing.

The division bench of Justice Sabina and Justice MK Vyas passed the order while hearing a PIL filed by the petitioner Mukesh Sharma, the Hindustan Times reported.

“After the new strategy was introduced, the vaccine manufacturers announced their new rates. Serum said in its statement that the vaccine will be given to the central government at the prevailing rate but the vaccine will be given to the state government for ₹400 and private hospitals for ₹600. Bharat Biotech announced the rate to be ₹600 for the state and ₹1200 for private institutions, which is against the spirit of Article 14 and 21 of the constitution,” Sharma said.

The petition stated that the emergency approval to the vaccine manufactured and supplied by Serum Institute of India under the name of Covishield was granted on January 3 by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO). It was reported that the vaccine would be sold to the central government at the rate of Rs. 150/- per dose. The vaccine indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech International Limited was also approved for emergency use. It was stated that the vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech shall also be sold for Rs. 150/- per dose to the central government.

Initially, the process of vaccination was opened to healthcare workers of the country from January 16 as part of the national Covid-19 vaccination strategy. Subsequently, the vaccination drive was extended to those above the age of 60 years and also for those above the age of 45 years with comorbidities.

The vaccination coverage was extended to all persons above the age of 45 years from April 1. Recently, the central government has announced liberalized pricing and accelerated national Covid-19 vaccine strategy, whereby, it was stated that from May 1, vaccine manufacturer would be bound to supply 50% of their monthly doses to the Government of India and the remaining 50% can be supplied to the different state governments and other private channels.

The petition pointed out that the prices quoted by manufacturers are not just higher but extremely discriminatory and arbitrary. The rate quoted by Serum Institute is the highest it has quoted in the world. Under the new strategy, which is coming into effect on May 1, people ageing 18 years and above will be eligible for vaccination but not under the Government of India vaccination programme.

If a person above the age of 18 years is to be vaccinated, they have to pay hefty amounts for vaccination or remain at the mercy of the state government for providing free vaccination, the petition stated. The state government, in turn, has to pay exorbitantly higher rates for every dosage of vaccination, it added.

Recently Rajasthan’s chief minister announced that the state government shall bear the cost of vaccination of all those above the age of 18 years. Contrary to the cost borne by the Government of India at ₹150 per dose, the state has been thrown in the turmoil to vaccinate more than 75% of the population at ₹400 and ₹600 per dose.

The Bombay High Court had earlier in the day declined to hear a similar petition, pointing that this issue should be placed before the Supreme Court since vaccine pricing impacts all states and not just one.

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