The Bombay High Court has directed The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) to look into the possibility of door-to-door vaccination for those who are above the age of 75 and the differently-abled. The expert committee, under the aegis of the Health Ministry, is required to submit its report before June 2.
Significantly, the division bench further observed that if the NEGVAC comes out with a policy favourable to the select group of citizens, then the same may be implemented immediately without waiting for the high court order.
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday had asked the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (BMC) whether it would be willing to conduct a door-to-door vaccination program for the elderly and disabled citizens. The high court indicated that if this was possible, the municipal body would be given permission for the same even in the absence of one by the Central government.
In its affidavit, the BMC said it was willing to do the door-to-door vaccination policy if the Centre came out with a policy for the same. It submitted that the Centre's "disinclination" to formulate the said policy "notwithstanding", it was prepared to introduce the same for the elderly and differently-abled. The BMC added that it has always followed policies as laid out by the Centre and the State.
Asking elderly to choose between the devil and the deep sea: HC
The high court expressed its dissatisfaction over the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) stand on the door-to-door vaccination program. We are disappointed that the BMC succumbed to pressure, the bench said.
"We are very disappointed with the stand taken by BMC. If you do not have stock, you stop vaccines for all. Why this selective vaccination going on? Can you discriminate like that?" the bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said. "You are asking the elderly to choose between the devil and the deep sea," the bench added.
The BMC's submission flies in the face of its own stand wherein it sought the Centre's permission to facilitate booster programs for the vulnerable at their homes. The Centre had reportedly turned down their request on the grounds that there was no such policy, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Health) Suresh Kakani had reportedly said. The door-to-door vaccination program would have helped the "nearly 1.5 lakh people in Mumbai who are old and bedridden or handicapped and can't move out of their house for vaccination," Kakani had said.
The high court also pulled up the Centre over its reluctance to adopt a door-to-door vaccination drive for the vulnerable sections of the society. "We were told of personal instances where people were waiting for hours at vaccination centers. They were given appointments and then there are not given vaccination," the high court said.
"Your officers are thoroughly insensitive. Instead of people chasing the vaccine, you should chase people and get them vaccinated. You will make them stand in queue and make them Covid positive. You should reach out to people. Why cannot this approach be thought of? People are approaching with grievances now," the bench told Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who was representing the Centre.
In a note filed before the high court, the Centre did not give any substantial reasons against door-to-door vaccination but rather outlined strategies to facilitate greater reach through Community-based Outreach Sessions (COS).
In its reply before the Supreme Court—in its suo motu matter in issues arising out of COVID—the Centre has opposed door-to-door vaccination programs on the grounds that it would result in vaccine wastage; delay the vaccination drive; adverse event following immunization management; exposure of vaccination team to infection; and compromises the efficacy of the booster.