The Centre asked the Supreme Court to respect the wisdom of the Executive while defending the various aspects of its vaccination policy. The Centre's affidavit—filed late on Sunday night—was filed in response to the top court's queries in light of a differential vaccine pricing, shortage of the same and a slow rollout.
"In the context of a global pandemic, where the response and strategy of the nation is completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, there is even little room for judicial interference, the Centre's affidavit read. "Any overzealous, though well-meaning judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences, in absence of any expert advice or administrative experience, leaving the doctors, scientists, experts and executive very little room to find innovative solutions on the go," the affidavit further read.
The top court on April 22 had taken suo motu cognizance of issues arising from the pandemic caused by the second COVID wave. The court's hearing on this issue was adjourned to Thursday in light of technical glitches faced during the virtual conference.
Differential Pricing will not affect citizens
The Centre submitted that differential vaccine pricing will not impact the "ultimate beneficiary namely, the eligible person getting the vaccine" since all State governments have already declared their policy to vaccinate their people for free. "Thus, while it is ensured that the two vaccine manufacturers are not unduly enriched from out of public money, the citizens are not supposed to make any payment for getting both doses of the vaccine," the affidavit read.
Currently, only two companies are producing two different vaccines—Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) and Covishield (a licensee of a British company produced by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccination drive in the country is facing glitches owing to the shortage in vaccine availability.
The Centre added that it has ensured uniform vaccine prices for all States, by conducting informal consultations with the vaccine manufacturers, to avoid any disparity resulting from one State ending up buying vaccine at a higher price than the other.
The differential and liberalized pricing policy are based on the concept of creating an incentivized demand for the private vaccine manufacturers in order to instil a competitive market resulting in higher production of vaccines and market-driven affordable prices for the same, the Centre said. This will result in increased availability of the vaccine, the Centre said.
In the present circumstances, the need for vaccination emergent and urgent
The Centre does not have the luxury of time and detailed planning as opposed to previous vaccination drives. This drive to vaccinate each and every adult person in the country is completely different from other vaccinations conducted by the country in the past in more than one way, the Centre said.
On April 30, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre why it couldn't follow the national immunization policy where the Centre could procure all vaccines and ensure distribution through the States.
"Earlier, there had been no requirement of an emergency vaccination drive like the sudden emerging situation since 2019 onwards. Secondly, scientists in the field of medicine and vaccination had enough time to develop the vaccine and thereafter, there was enough time to manufacture, distribute and administer, the vaccines," the Centre said.
The people getting vaccinated was in line with a system of prioritization in light of the limited availability of vaccines. "The first priority was identified as protecting India's Healthcare & Response System since the same forms the bedrock of any nation's capacity to deal with the pandemic," the Centre said. "The second priority was identified as controlling the vulnerability and mortality risk for COVID-19 disease. Pertinently, the analyses of COVID deaths in the country reveals that 54% of all deaths occurred amongst those above 60 years of age, whereas those in 50-59 years of age accounted only for 24% and it is estimated that more than 85% of all deaths occurred in the age group above 45 years," the affidavit further read.
Trust the wisdom of the Executive: Centre to SC
The Centre told the top court that "in the times of such grave and unprecedented crisis", the executive functioning of the government needs the discretion to formulate policy in the larger interest. The Narendra Modi government added that in view of "the unprecedented and peculiar circumstances under which vaccination drive is devised as an executive policy, the wisdom of the executive should be trusted."
The Centre added that while it was duty-bound to assist the top court, the court must appreciate the steps taken a national, regional and grassroots levels to manage the crisis. The Centre has based its decision on after detailed deliberation "at the highest executive level." The decisions are based on expert medical and scientific advice which must be appreciated in the context of a medical crisis. Thus, "no interference is called for in judicial proceedings, leaving it open for the executive to discharge its executive functions in the larger interest."
No COVID positive report required for hospital admissions
In a significant move, the Centre has issued a policy doing away with the mandatory submission of a COVID positive test report for admission in any hospital or a COVID health facility.
No patient will be refused services on any count. This includes medications such as oxygen or essential drugs even if the patient belongs to a different city. No patient shall be refused admission on the ground that he/she is not able to produce a valid identity card that does not belong to the city where the hospital is located, the centre added.
The Centre has intimated the state governments its policy of setting up three-tier Health infrastructure for appropriate management of suspect/confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Hospital admissions must be based on need. It should be ensured that beds are not occupied by persons who do not need hospitalization. Further, the discharge should be strictly in accordance with the revised discharge policy…, the affidavit said.