When will Kerala get vaccines, High Court to Narendra Modi government

A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday asked the Centre to say when it could supply COVID-19 vaccines to Kerala. This was the second time in a week the High Court had asked the Centre about the vaccine supply to Kerala.

On May 7, when the Court had asked whether Kerala was receiving only 3 lakh vaccines against its request for a crore doses, the counsel for the Centre had conceded that it was the case. Kerala had been asking for 75 lakh doses of Covishield and 25 lakh of Covaxin. On that day, the assistant solicitor general, speaking for the Centre, said that he was not given any specific instruction about the supply of vaccines but said that the doses were being released incrementally according to availability.

However, on Friday, the Centre's counsel sought time till Friday (May 21) next week.

The Court's query was based on a Public Interest Litigation that sought legal remedy for certain fundamental flaws in the Centre's vaccine policy, which is officially called Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. The petition was filed by Dr K P Aravindan, a member of the Kerala Government's expert panel on COVID-19.

Supply of vaccines was not part of the petition but the Court felt compelled to take up the issue considering the urgency shown by Kerala. Underlining the need for more supplies, the State Attorney, K V Sohan, told the Court on Friday: "We want as much vaccines as possible, whether it is from Russia or Cuba."

One of the appeals made in the petition, the need to transfer the vaccine technology to more manufacturers, came up for discussion in the Court on Friday. The counsel for the petitioner said that there were 19 manufacturers, including the Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd, that could manufacture the vaccine.

The Court, at this stage, expressed the doubt whether laboratories in the state had enough facilities for the manufacture of vaccines.

The State Attorney said manufacture was not an immediate concern and said it could even stand in the way of an early rollout. "The challenge was procuring vaccine, rather than manufacturing and vaccinating. Manufacturing at this stage is not practical and would delay the vaccine rollout, since WHO certification was necessary to accredit manufacturing rights," he said.

Here are some of the other points raised by the petitioner, which would be taken up next week.

One, the decision to allow vaccine companies to have a three tier price structure with differential pricing for the central and state governments will result in low coverage of the targeted population thereby putting at risk the entire population of India.

(The Serum Institute of India will supply Covishield at Rs 400 per vaccine to State Governments and Rs 600 to private hospitals. Bharat Biotech will sell Covaxin at Rs 600 for State Governments and Rs 1200 for private hospitals. Both vaccines will be available for Rs. 150 to the Central Government.)

Two, charging for vaccines for the 18-45 age group amounts to an unreasonable classification and is arbitrary.

Three, the vaccines ought to fall under the National Essential Medicines list which is a list of essential drugs that have their prices capped. The prices of the vaccines can also be capped keeping in mind the provisions of the The Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013.

Four, the cost of the Vaccine in India is the highest in the world. The Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India is a publicly funded vaccine and charging an exorbitant price is unjustifiable and mere profiteering.

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