By LE Desk

New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court has asked the central government about its preparedness to deal with the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic, underlining that the vaccination of everyone below 18 must also be undertaken as soon as possible.

Starting May 1, anyone aged 18 or over is eligible for a Covid vaccine. Out of country’s total population of 1.3 billion, around 450 million are under 18 and, as such, not eligible for a vaccine yet. Around 160 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered so far with 30 million people, which is just a little over 2% of India’s population getting the complete two doses.

To be sure, most vaccines are not yet approved for people below 18, and Canada became the first country in the world on Wednesday to approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for ages as young as 12, according to the Hindustan Times. 

The newspaper reported this week that experts have pointed to the importance of planning for the vaccination of those below 18 because there cannot be a proper opening up until the entire population is protected. The number of companies conducting trials of vaccines for children is limited and if India doesn’t move fast enough, supplies may not be available.

On Thursday, the bench of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and MR Shah sought to know from the government whether any policy was being contemplated to combat a third Covid-19 wave in the wake of opinions of experts that it may affect children worse than the first two waves have, the Hindustan Times reported.

K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the government of India, on Wednesday said that a third wave of Covid-19 was inevitable looking at the current surge in infections.

“How will you deal when the third surge comes? There are reports about it. Your own scientists are talking about this,” the bench asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Union government.

Mehta responded that the government was mindful of this and would take all appropriate steps but it was willing to consider if the court had anything to suggest. “My lords may tell us what we should do,” he said.

The bench, however, retorted that the question was for the government so that the court could have a fair idea of how the government planned to combat the third wave.

“In the third wave, children are going to be affected. And the issue is that when they will have to be taken to hospitals and they will have to be accompanied with by their parents. Therefore, we say that when we plan for the third stage, the vaccination process for young children has to be complete,” the bench told the SG.

It added that the court was looking for a scientific way of dealing with the issue of preparedness before the third wave descends. “We are not saying that it is only the government’s problem but we will have to also deal with this. And we will have to deal with this in a scientific way,” it said.

The SG replied: “I appreciate that the highest court of the country is sharing and expressing its concerns with the Centre and is not asking for a report…What is to be done is yet to be decided.”

The bench said: “But we are exactly on this…what is to be done? The second wave is already here. Our idea is to ask you about this so that we are not caught unaware when the situation descends on us.”

Mehta, on his part, then said that it could not be lost sight of that nothing is static.

This made Justice Chandrachud quip: “Arre, wo sab to theek hai ki (we understand that) nothing is static. But, when will it become dynamic? We are in a pandemic. There has to be a plan.”

Hearing the case relating to allocation of oxygen to Delhi, the bench further lamented that the Centre’s formula on allocation of medical oxygen to the states was not scientific and required a revamp.

“We need to assess the basis of oxygen allocation. We are in stage two of the pandemic and we may be getting to stage three. All need to prepare to be able to handle stage three,” it said.

At this point, Mehta said the Union government was open to consider all the suggestions mooted by the court regarding review of the Covid-19 management policies, including the one on allocation of oxygen to the states. The court is expected to take up this issue with the Centre on Monday again.

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