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Kerala High Court Issues Notice On Pleas Challenging Centre's COVID Vaccination Policy

Lydia Suzanne Thomas
27 April 2021 9:45 AM GMT
Kerala High Court Issues Notice On Pleas Challenging Centres COVID Vaccination Policy
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The Kerala High Court today issued notice to the Centre on the challenge to the Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID -19 Vaccination Strategy (Vaccine Policy) and to the private party vaccine manufacturers on the differential pricing strategies. A Bench of Justices Ashok Menon and Murali Purshothaman declined to pass interim orders at this time and expressed inclination...

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The Kerala High Court today issued notice to the Centre on the challenge to the Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID -19 Vaccination Strategy (Vaccine Policy) and to the private party vaccine  manufacturers on the differential pricing strategies.

A Bench of Justices Ashok Menon and Murali Purshothaman declined to pass interim orders at this time and expressed inclination to take the matter up after the Supreme Court took up the COVID-19 proceedings instituted on its own motion.

During hearing Advocate Haris Beeran for one of the petitioners Dr MK Muneer strenuously sought for a posting prior to April 30 so that the Centre could respond on why the States were required to pay private parties for vaccines procured to vaccinate those between the ages of 18-45 and could to obtain them free for vaccinations of those above 45.

"This is manifestly arbitrary", he averred.

A counsel for another petitioner expressed angst that the "country should be held to ransom by two companies".

Issuing notice, the Court decided to seek responses from the private companies, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech on the matter of differential pricing alone, while seeking the Government's statements on the vaccine policy itself, since the same "is a policy decision".

With this, the Court proceeded to post the matter for hearing on the first week of March.

The first petition before the Court, was filed by CPI(M) leader and candidate for the Palakkad constituency in the Kerala Assembly Elections, Advocate CP Promod. His petition primarily contends that the policy excludes persons in the age group of 18-45 years from the free vaccine quota of the Centre, which amounts to illegal discrimination.

Among other grounds, the petition filed through Advocates Athul Shaji and Anwin John Antony assails the differentiated pricing for the vaccines, the deviation from the principle that vaccines have to be procured at the Central level for distribution to the states, and leaving the States to compete for the vaccines in the open market.

The exclusion of citizens aged below 45 (who comprise 79% of the population) - from eligibility for free vaccines is an unreasonable classification, amounting to hostile discrimination under Article 14 and "is wholly prejudicial to development of Herd Immunity by way of Universal Immunisation", the petitioner urges in addition.

The second plea, was moved this morning by Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly Dr MK Muneer through Advocate Haris Beeran also makes the case that the vaccine policy is discriminatory in that it excludes those in the 18-24 year category from the Centre's free vaccine pool.

The petition terms the Policy's aim to shift the burden of vaccinating the populace upon the states as 'manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory.'

Asserting that by reason of the vaccine policy, many states "were up in arms", the petition reads,

"Asking state governments to compete in open market for vaccine procurement while Centre keeps an assured quota for itself is 'manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory'"

Therefore, the petition prays for direction to Centre –

  • to take over vaccine programme in accordance with the National Disaster Management Plan
  • vaccinate citizens free of cost
  • make Covid vaccines available at uniform prices for Centre and States

A third plea was also presented to court by Dr K Aravindan a member of the expert panel on COVID-19 constituted by the Government of Kerala and Dr Praveen G Pai, a Public Health Specialist. and who were represented by Advocate Prashanth S and lawyers of Software Freedom Law Center. the petition primarily assails the decision to charge for vaccinations of those between 18-45 and the differential pricing structure followed between the Centre and the State.

The decision to allow vaccine companies to have a three tier price structure with differential pricing for the central and state governments will result in low coverage of the targeted population thereby putting at risk the entire population of India, impinging upon the right to health and right to life, it is contended.

Stating that the vaccines ought to fall under the National Essential Medicines list which is a list of essential drugs that have their prices capped, the petition raises an additional prayer seeking that intellectual property rights in the vaccines are allocated to more manufacturers so as to achieve the universal immunization of Indian citizens. There are at least 19 capable vaccine manufacturers as listed in the National Health Profile, 2019, it is additionally asserted in the plea.

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