The Supreme Court, which last week directed the centre to reconsider vaccine prices on grounds that it would harm the public’s right to health – will hear the issue today
The centre has defended its Covid vaccination policy – criticised for differential pricing, shortage of doses, and slow rollout – in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court late Sunday night.
The affidavit urged against “judicial interference”, and warned that “overzealous, though well-meaning, intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences”. It also asked that the court leve decisions “based on expert advice… in the larger public interest”.
“Pricing of vaccines is not only reasonable but uniform across the country (after) government persuasion with two vaccine companies resulted in uniform pricing,” the centre said in its affidavit.
The centre further said everyone in the 18-45 age group (whose vaccinations had been delayed till the first week of May) would be vaccinated for free, as states had announced such plans.
The Supreme Court, which last week directed the centre to reconsider vaccine prices – “to ensure it withstands scrutiny of Articles 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution” – will hear the issue today.
The row over vaccine prices was after manufacturers Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech announced vastly different prices for the centre, state governments and private hospitals.
While the centre continues to spend only Rs 150 per dose of either Serum Institute’s Covishield or Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, states must pay Rs 400 per dose for Covaxin and private hospitals Rs 1,200. Covishield costs Rs 300 per dose for states and Rs 600 for private hospitals.
The vast difference in prices also triggered a political storm, with the Congress accusing the centre of “vaccine profiteering” and sarcastically reminding it of the “one nation, one price” war cry.
Last week the Supreme Court said compelling states to negotiate with manufacturers, on grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive for new manufacturers, would adversely affect those in the 18-44 age group, whose vaccination has only just begun.
“Whether or not essential vaccines will be available to them will depend upon the decision of each state, based on its own finances… This will create disparity across the nation. The vaccinations being provided to citizens constitute a valuable public good,” the court added.
During the first hearing on this matter, held last month, the court had said: “During the national crisis, Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the court is complimentary.”
India began its vaccination drive in January and has administered nearly 17 crore doses so far but the pace has been questioned, with states running out of stock and shutting down centres.