The West Bengal government moved the Supreme Court on Friday seeking directions to disband Phase-III vaccine policy of the Centre and adoption of uniform policy of procuring 100 per cent doses of Covid-19 from vaccine manufacturers which can be equitably distributed to all the States and Union Territories for free decentralized distribution. The state government also sought setting aside of the differential pricing mechanism for Covid-19 vaccines and capping the price for Covid-19 vaccines at a uniform price of Rs 150 per dose.
The intervention application has been filed by the state government in the pending matter taken suo motu by the top court for ensuring distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic. It sought directions to the Centre to place a single bulk order for Covid-19 vaccines on a war footing basis on both domestic and foreign manufacturers to ensure universal coverage at the shortest possible time frame.
The state government claimed that it is yet to receive its allocated share of vaccines from the union government despite a commitment from the Centre that it would be supplied four lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines by May 5, 2021. The Government of West Bengal is yet to receive these 4 lakh doses as of May 6, 2021, the application said, adding that there are reports that on account of vaccine shortages and uncertainty over vaccine availability, States such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Tripura, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and UT of Chandigarh had to postpone the scheduled roll out of Phase-III of the Covid-19 immunization program. It said that the State government was also unable to commence phase -III of the vaccine roll out on account of vaccine unavailability; the ongoing inoculation process for those above 44 years of age is however continuing at different medical facilities depending on the availability of vaccines.
The instant application is being filed praying for urgent directions from this Court inter alia directing the Government of India to procure Covid-19 vaccines and distribute the same to the States and Union Territories across India in an equitable manner and within the earliest possible time frame; The other directions prayed for in this application are also necessary for achieving universal coverage within the shortest possible time frame, the plea said.
The state government said that at present, there is an acute shortage of Covid-19 vaccines for achieving universal coverage in India and the Centre must take urgent steps on a war footing basis to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are made available to the States for free decentralized distribution to the masses without any further delay. It said, Such a course of action is necessary to ensure that the Covid-19 chain of transmission is broken and human lives are saved so that the current crisis does not become a catastrophe. It is respectfully submitted that universal coverage is the single best panacea against the second wave of the pandemic.
The state government said that India is contributing to over 40 per cent of the number of daily new infections worldwide and these figures are expected to rise exponentially as the country enter the peak phase of the second wave of the pandemic. "It has been estimated by a team of the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore that a staggering 4, 04,000 deaths will occur by June 11, 2021 as the death toll may double from the current levels, it said. The state government further said that in order to reach herd immunity, at least 70 per cent of the adult population (approximately 650 million adults) would have to be vaccinated which would require approximately 1.4 billion doses. The Government of India on May 1, 2021 under the Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of Covid-19 Vaccination (vaccine policy) opened up vaccination for the 18-45 age group under Phase III of its vaccination drive, which comprises approximately 590 million or 59 crore persons, it said.
It said that the policy will result in an inequitable distribution of vaccines and defeat the very objective of universal coverage, which is crucial for achieving herd immunity. This is because States will be made to compete with each other for obtaining vaccines for its residents and will be forced to bargain with private manufacturers on pricing and supply; the poorer States will have lower bargaining power and therefore residents of such States will have unequal access to vaccines thereby being deprived for their fundamental right to health enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution, it said. The plea further said that it is painfully clear that there is an acute shortage of COVID-19 vaccines and the objective of achieving immunization of the 59 crore eligible persons between the age group of 18-44 years is currently a distant possibility.
The Government of West Bengal had on April 27, 2021 requested the Government of India for a vaccine stock of 2 crore doses for the 1 crore population within the 18-45 demographic in the State, it said. The state government said that instead, the Centre vide its letters dated April 29, 2021 had indicated to the Government of West Bengal that it would facilitate' the roll-out of vaccines for Phase -III on the basis of its discussions with the vaccine manufacturers under the Other than Government of India channel.