The Supreme Court has made a prima facie observation that the Centre's vaccination policy, which does not provide free vaccination for those in the age-group of 18 to 44 years, as "arbitrary and irrational".
"Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, we are now faced with a situation where the18-44 age group also needs to be vaccinated, although priority may be retained between different age groups on a scientific basis. Hence, due to the importance of vaccinating individuals in the 18-44 age group, the policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospitals for the persons between 18-44 years is,prima facie, arbitrary and irrational", the Court observed.
The observation was made by a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat in the suo moto case on COVID-related issues(In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic).
The Court noted in the order that the the experience of the second wave of the pandemic has provided an experiential learning that the COVID-19 virus is capable of mutation and now poses a threat to persons in this age group as well. Reports indicate that persons between 18-44 years of age have not only been infected by COVID-19, but have also suffered from severe effects of the infection, including prolonged hospitalization and, in unfortunate cases, death. It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court has made the prima facie observation against the "Liberalized Vaccination Policy" of the Centre.
The Court noted that Liberalized Vaccination Policy requires some of these persons to pay for the vaccines; limited vaccines are made available for this category with the State/UTGovernments/private hospitals and an additional requirement of mandatory digital registration and booking an appointment through CoWIN has been imposed, among others. Unlike the prior policy, the Liberalized Vaccination Policy does not prioritize persons with co-morbidities and other diseases, persons with disabilities, or any other vulnerable groups.
The Court has directed the Union Government to respond to the observations made by the bench by filing a fresh affidavit. The Court has also called for all relevant documents and file notings reflecting the thinking of the Centre on the vaccination policy.
The Court directed the Union to undertake a "fresh review" of the vaccination policy in the light of the concerns raised by the Court.
"We find that the the Liberalized Vaccination Policy may not be able to yield the desired results of spurring competitive prices and higher quantities of vaccines", the Court observed.
Also Read other reports about the order :
Title : In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic (Suo Moto Writ Petition(civil) No.3/2021)
Bench : Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, S Ravindra Bhat
Citation : LL 2021 SC 263