It’s a ‘different’ and ‘biggest’ COVID-19 vaccination drive, Centre tells SC

It was responding to criticism that its inoculation push is crumbling

Updated - November 18, 2021 04:09 pm IST

Published - May 10, 2021 04:23 pm IST - New Delhi

Covid 19 vaccination drive in progress in the capital on Monday.

Covid 19 vaccination drive in progress in the capital on Monday.

The COVID-19 vaccination drive is the “biggest” ever and “completely different” from the immunisation drives of the previous decades, the Union government on Monday responded to criticism that its inoculation push is crumbling.

The government said that unlike the vaccination campaigns of the past, the COVID-19 immunisation drive did not have the “luxury” of time.

Scientists, in those years, had the breathing space to research and develop. There was time to manufacture and distribute vaccines unlike in the case COVID-19, which crashlanded on humanity. The current need for vaccination was both “emergent and urgent”. Critics and experts have said the government has many a lesson to learn from the polio immunisation drive conducted decades ago.

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“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 vaccines [for COVID-19] are developed very recently throughout the world and therefore, their production has also started very recently. Another peculiar feature of this vaccination is that the vaccine requires two doses, separated by four to eight weeks,” the government reasoned in a 218-page affidavit filed in the Supreme Court.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud could not hear arguments on the affidavit due to technical glitches during the virtual hearing. The hearing was adjourned to Thursday.

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In the affidavit, the Centre assured the equitable allocation of vaccines to States. It said it had determined, in consultation with the vaccine manufacturers, the State-wise “pro rata” population of those within the target age of 18 and 44.

“Each State will procure only that quantity so that there is no disparity in availability of vaccines between the States inter se either based upon difference in their bargaining power or otherwise,” the government pointed out. It said each State government had been informed about the number of vaccines it would receive in May.


“View India as one unit”

The Centre asked the States to maintain discipline and view India as “one unit”. The efforts to combat the virus should be “pan Indian”. One State should not try to procure vaccine at the cost of other States.

Recently, the Mamata Banerjee government had criticised the Centre in the apex court on the differential vaccine pricing and how the Centre, at ₹150 a vaccine, had got a cheaper deal than the States. The West Bengal government had also pointed out how bigger States could negotiate better prices with the vaccine manufacturers, leaving smaller States with miniscule resources high and dry.

Explaining its ‘cheaper deal’, the Centre said it had a “large vaccination programme” and had to place “large purchase orders” for vaccines as opposed to the State governments and private hospitals. “Therefore, this reality had some reflection in the prices negotiated,” it explained.

On the bigger States allegedly bullying and getting the better of smaller ones over vaccine purchases, the Centre said it had had “informal consultations” with the vaccine manufacturers and ensured that the prices of vaccine would be “uniform” for all the States. The Centre, however, made it a point to mention that citizens would not be affected by the pricing as all the State governments have already declared that they would administer the vaccines free of cost. The affidavit said the Centre encouraged citizens who can afford to pay for their vaccine jabs at private hospitals, as this would “facilitate better access and will reduce the operational stress on the government vaccination facilities”.

Online slotting

The Centre said vaccination would be done by online slotting and those who did not have online Internet access could take the help of family, friends, NGOs, etc.

The government shot down the idea of bringing vaccines under a statutory regime at this point of time. “Both manufacturers [one an Indian company and second a licensee of a British company] have taken financial risk in developing and manufacturing these vaccines and it was prudent to take decisions on pricing through negotiations in a transparent consultative process keeping statutory provisions as a last resort,” it stated.

Different vaccines were differentially priced to foster a competitive market and to attract manufacturers from abroad. This would increase the availability of vaccines in India. “Differential pricing is based on the concept of creating an incentivised 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,” it observed.

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