Entire globe is a unit: Centre told SC on vaccine exports

An employee works inside a laboratory at the Serum Institute of India, in Pune. File   | Photo Credit: AP

The “entire globe is a unit” during a pandemic. This is how the government justified in the Supreme Court its decision to export vaccines amidst a surging second wave of COVID-19

A page in the Ministry of External Affairs’ website shows that between January and April 2021, India exported 663.698 lakh “Made in India COVID-19 vaccine supplies” to over 90 countries and UN health workers and peacekeepers.

Also read: Coronavirus | ‘Irresponsible people’ question export of vaccines: Jaishankar

“Once an epidemic takes (the) form of a pandemic, its management has to be done keeping the entire globe as (a) unit,” a March 11 affidavit of the Health Ministry informed the apex court. The document sheds further light into the much criticised-move to export COVID-19 vaccines. 

In fact, according to the affidavit, the government reasoned it was not possible to take a country or States-specific approach. The government envisaged vaccine export as part of a “global action to vaccination”. The Centre reasoned that it was necessary to protect the high-risk population in other countries to “break the chain of transmission” and “minimise chances of import of COVID-19 cases to India”.

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“India is not immune to the pandemic till the world at large has contained the disease,” the Centre argued. 

It said the export was “limited” and done giving “highest priority to domestic needs”. 

But this is not all. The government, in the affidavit, gives another “dimension” to why it exported vaccines and opted for staggered immunisation.

It said both were done to avoid disproportionality between the production of COVID-19 vaccines and the country’s “available” health infrastructure and manpower. Simultaneous vaccination without priority classification would have led to “commotion”, the Centre told the Supreme Court. 

The affidavit highlights the need for “adequate manpower” and “sufficient infrastructure” to “cope” with the immunisation drive. The document indicates that the available health infrastructure and manpower may not match up.

Also read: India’s COVID-19 vaccine export may be curbed

“To illustrate, having received one crore vaccine doses for a particular State or city, the vaccine drive would need sufficient number of medical staff who can administer the vaccines and infrastructure like hospitals, primary health centres, etc… It is needless to mention that manufacturing of vaccine would not be proportionate to the available manpower and infrastructure facilities in the country,” the government justified. 

Even if such infrastructure was available, the Centre said, “simultaneous vaccine without priority classification would lead to commotion”. 

“Under the circumstances, the produced vaccine, which is beyond manpower and infrastructure facilities available, is exported,” the government explained.

But a West Bengal government affidavit in the top court, filed a month after the Centre’s March 11 one, gives a different picture of the vaccination campaign.

“Currently, only 1.54 percent of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated and only around 8.4 percent of the population has received one dose of the vaccine,” West Bengal told the Supreme Court on April 29. 

It said if India wanted to cover at least 80% of its eligible population, i.e., 80% of the population above 18 years of age by the end of this year, then it must increase its vaccination rate by about 100 million doses/month.

“At the current rate of vaccination, which is about 2.2 million doses administered per day, only 30 percent of the eligible population will be vaccinated fully by the end of this year. Therefore, the immediate singular objective of the Government of India ought to be to take drastic steps to achieve universal coverage at the earliest,” the Mamata Banerjee government said. 

Terming vaccine as a “public good”, West Bengal said even “a single person deprived of vaccination would be to the collective detriment of a large section of society”. 

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 11:27:12 AM |

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