UPDATED: May 10, 2021 11:57 IST
Defending its Covid-19 vaccine policy amid criticism by some states, the Centre, in an affidavit, asked the Supreme Court not to interfere in the issue while saying that the “wisdom of the executive should be trusted” in times of grave crisis such as what is being experienced presently.
In a 218-page affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Sunday evening, the Centre has provided detailed information and answered the court’s queries about its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The hearing in the case about ensuring essential supplies and drugs during the pandemic will continue on Monday. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat will take up the matter.
Here are the highlights from the Centre’s affidavit.
Hospital admission policy
According to the Centre, a three-tier health infrastructure system has been set up to appropriately manage Covid-19 cases. This includes Covid care centres for mild cases, Covid health centres for moderate cases and Covid hospitals for severe cases.
For admission to a Covid health facility, a patient does not require a positive RT-PCR or rapid antigen test report.
Additionally, any patient can be admitted to a Covid health facility anywhere in the country, regardless of where they live. There is no need to show an Aadhar card or other identity card proving that the patient belongs to the place where the health facility is located.
However, the Centre’s affidavit does not provide a reason as to why recommendation by district officials for hospital admission or intake through the government ambulance system was made mandatory in some states.
The government stated in its affidavit that it had written to all the states and Union Territories to provide for “extraordinary measures to augment the need of medical staff in the country”.
On May 3, a circular was issued to allowed medical students in their fifth year of study to be inducted for Covid-19 duty. Remuneration and financial incentives will be offered to those who sign up for a minimum of 100 days of Covid duty on a contractual basis.
As per the Centre, the number of Covid centres, hospital beds, doctors and nurses has been increased to handle the second wave of the pandemic.
The Centre said in its affidavit that the production of Covid-19 vaccines started only recently since the vaccines were developed only a few months ago across the world.
“Every country in the world has followed a system of prioritisation in light of limited availability of vaccines,” the statement read. Hence, India too opened up its vaccination drive to different sections of the population in a phased manner. As of May 1, all citizens above the age of 18 are eligible to get vaccinated.
Vaccine doses available for the states or the ‘Other than Government of India Channel’ has been worked out based on the monthly production of vaccine manufacturers and the doses cleared by the Central Drugs Laboratory that are projected to be available with them.
This amount has been proportionately allocated to states based on their population in the 18 to 44-year age group. In this way, states will be able to procure only the quantity allotted to them from the manufacturers so that there is no disparity in vaccine availability between states.
The Centre has said that the “wisdom of the executive should be trusted” in times of grave crisis such as what is being experienced presently. Hence, in the case of vaccine pricing, “the executive functioning of the government needs the discretion to formulate policy in larger interest”.
The affidavit stated that the Centre, by conducting informal consultations with the vaccine manufacturers, ensured the price of the vaccines was uniform across states.
The Centre claimed that it had been given the vaccine at a cheaper rate than the states or private hospitals since it placed a larger purchase order and money in advance to the companies.
The option to pay the price and get vaccinated at a private hospital exists for those who want to opt for the same and can afford it. The Centre said that 25 per cent vaccination through the private sector would facilitate better access and reduce the operational stress on government vaccination facilities.
The government has stated that significant efforts were being made at several levels, including diplomatic channels, to procure vaccines from other countries.
It asked the Supreme Court not to interfere in the issue as “any discussion on this aspect is likely to be detrimental to the efforts being made by the central government in other countries”.
Online registration for vaccination
The Centre has said that online registration was justified for “effective vaccine administration”. It allows the government to track those who have received one dose and send them reminders for their second dose.
The database thus formed would strengthen the Centre’s ability to undertake macro-health planning in the future too, the government said.
The doses of the vaccine are not unlimited and so, permitting walk-in vaccination/registration would result in overcrowding at vaccination centres, the affidavit stated.
In rural areas, panchayats have established common service centres that provide people with digital and internet access for various purposes.
Additionally, citizens who do not have access to the internet can take help from their family, friends and NGOs, the Centre said.
The affidavit also said that door-to-door vaccination was impossible due to the logistical requirements of the Covid-19 vaccine. The 30-minute observation period will not be possible if at-home vaccination is undertaken. The healthcare worker administering the vaccine will also be at added risk of contracting Covid-19.
‘Advance payment’ to SII, Bharat Biotech
The Centre said that the money it gave to vaccine producers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech was not an investment but “advance payments”. No governmental aid, assistance or grant was made for research or development of either of their vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin.
However, the affidavit also said that the two companies were given some financial assistance for conducting clinical trials.