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When Will Kerala Get Its Share Of Vaccines? Kerala High Court Asks Centre

Lydia Suzanne Thomas
7 May 2021 2:52 PM GMT
When Will Kerala Get Its Share Of Vaccines? Kerala High Court Asks Centre

The Kerala High Court took up a petition challenging the Central Government's Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy (policy) and its suo motu case against overcrowding in front of vaccine centers.A Bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Dr Kauser Edappagath sought information from the Central Government as to a time frame within which...

The Kerala High Court took up a petition challenging the Central Government's Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy (policy) and its  suo motu case against overcrowding in front of vaccine centers.

A Bench of Justices Devan Ramachandran and Dr Kauser Edappagath sought information from the Central Government as to a time frame within which the Kerala Government would get its share of vaccines from the Center.

Justice Ramachandran, speaking for the Bench asked whether it was true that Kerala was receiving 3 lakh vaccines against its request for a crore (75 lakh doses of covishield and 25 lakh of covaxin). When Counsel for the Center Advocate KR Rajkumar and State Attorney KV Sohan agreed, the Court remarked that it was not being parochial but sought a timeline from the Centre as to when it could receive its share of vaccines.

Speaking for the Centre, Advocate KR Rajkumar for the Assistant Solicitor General told the Court that he did not have specific instructions as to the supply of vaccines, requested by the Government of Kerala, but that doses are being released incrementally per availability, in pursuance of an all-India Policy. This policy is dependent on demographic needs and population, he said.

In its Order, the Court records,

"We have no quarrel with the proposition now placed before us by the learned Assistant Solicitor General, but we think that Government of India should respond at the earliest as to when there would be a meaningful solution to the scarcity of doses of vaccines, which is now being faced. When we say this, it may not be misunderstood to mean that we are asking for any preferential treatment to the State of Kerala, but only that Government of India must inform us how and when the doses, as requested, can be made available to Kerala."

The Court remarked that the general fear of there being a vaccine shortage was perhaps leading to flocking in front of vaccine centers.

Referring a Mathrubhumi news report that narrated an instance of overcrowding in Palakkad and Justice Ramachandran's own information that there was crowding for the second dose of vaccine in front of the Ernakulam General Hospital, the Court called for the Central Government's response as to when vaccines will be available.

"Government of India should respond to this court as to when vaccines will be available...We are not asking for preferential treatment to state of Kerala", the Court stated.

"There can be little doubt that every citizen would crave for the vaccination because there is a fear that their life itself would be jeopardised", it was recorded in the order.

To avoid crowding, the Court exhorted citizens of the state "to understand that panic and unrestrained behaviour will worsen the pandemic situation ..."

"Needless to say state police chief is ordered to direct SHOs by circular over email that any request for deployment by vaccine centers will be honoured. Only empathetic persuasion to be used," Court additionally ordered.

Police personnel deployed outside vaccine centers were to refrain from use of force but use empathetic persuasion instead, the Court enjoined today.

With these directions, the Court called for the case to be posted on May 20, once the High Court reopens.

The plea by lawyer Mathew Nevin Thomas, filed through Advocate Santhosh Mathew and advocates of Ninan and Mathew Advocates, takes the stand that the policy run counter to the Universal Immunisation Plan and National Vaccine Strategy which raised a legitimate expectation that the vaccines would be procured by the Centre and distributed down the chain to the public free of cost and universally, in a gradually phased manner.

Arguing that the Policy imposed the burden of procuring vaccines on the state at short notice, the plea raises a specific concern that the states may even have to bypass their own procurement processes and safeguards in obtaining doses of the vaccine. Another concern raised is that multiple procurement channels and supply chains would unnecessarily duplicate and slow the process of vaccine distribution.

"Unlike private players who can distribute the vaccines at cost or on a for-profit basis, state governments will now need to supplement the supplies arriving from the 1st Respondent with their own procurement, and will be compelled to distribute what they procure for free at their own cost in order to ensure that people who cannot afford to buy the vaccines are also immunized. For a small State like Kerala, which had to face severe natural calamities by way of unprecedented floods and rainfalls with its depleted State exchequer, notice of a mere 10 days is not sufficient for this, which is evident from the fact that state governments have only just begun to place orders with the 7th and 8th Respondents…," it is stated.

The petitioner also takes issue to the differential pricing strategy followed in the vaccine rollout whereby the Centre, the States, private hospitals pay differing sums to procure the vaccine and vaccinations to those in the 18-45 age bracket are charged. It is asserted that the policy goes against the 'One Drug, One Price' system followed thus far.

Therefore, the petitioner seeks a quash on the policy and directions to the Centre to - 

  • bring the COVID-19 vaccines under the ambit of the UIP and follow the National Vaccine Policy in their deployment;
  • carry out procurement and distribution of all COVID-19 vaccines by bearing all costs in this regard, consistent with past practice; and
  • roll out the COVID-19 vaccines free of cost across all age groups, including those between 18 and 45 years of age;
  • bring all COVID-19 vaccines under the ambit of the Drugs (Prices Control) Order, 2013 issued under the Essential Commodities Act;
  • to allocate sufficient funds for procuring the vaccines for the State of Kerala so that vaccination can be done in a time-bound manner

Additionally, the plea seeks from the state of Kerala a status report on number of vaccine doses, number of vaccinated persons thus far, the funds required and allocated in this respect, among other prayers.

Click here to download the order

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