- Supreme Court, had earlier asked the centre to reconsider vaccine prices on grounds of public’s right to health.
- Differential pricing, according to the Centre, is based on the “concept of creating an incentivised market” to increase vaccine production in the country.
In an affidavit filed late Sunday night with the Supreme Court ahead of a hearing on Monday morning, the centre defended its Covid vaccination policy, which has been criticised for unequal pricing, shortages of doses, and sluggish implementation.
The affidavit cautioned against “judicial interference,” saying that “overzealous, well-intentioned action could result in unforeseen and unintended consequences.”
According to the centre, “There is no space for judicial intervention in the context of a global pandemic, where expert medical and scientific opinion drives the nation’s response and strategy. Any overzealous, although well-intentioned, judicial action can have unintended and unintended effects… in the absence of professional guidance or administrative experience, doctors, scientists, experts, and executives will have very little space to find creative solutions on the go.”
“Vaccine pricing is not only fair, but universal around the country (after) government persuasion with two vaccine manufacturers,” according to the centre.
The centre also stated that many states had announced plans to vaccinate people aged 18 to 45 for free, and that crematorium employees and rural panchayat workers were “frontline workers” who were eligible for the vaccine.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the government to rethink prices “to ensure it withstands scrutiny under Articles 14 (equality before the law) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).”
After manufacturers Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech declared significantly different prices for the centre, state governments, and private hospitals, a price war erupted.
Although the centre continues to spend only ₹150 per dose of either Serum Institute’s Covishield or Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, states must pay ₹400 and private hospitals ₹1200 for Covaxin. For states, Covishield costs ₹300 per dosage, while private hospitals pay ₹600.
State and private hospital prices were initially higher, and only after widespread uproar they were reduced.
The huge price disparity sparked a political firestorm, with the Congress accusing the Centre of “vaccine profiteering” and sarcastically reminding it of the war cry “one country, one price.”
The centre stated that it would receive half of the vaccine supply and would provide it to states for free. It made no comment, however, on the higher prices of the remaining 50%.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that forcing states to bargain with manufacturers, ostensibly to promote competition and make it more attractive to new manufacturers, would harm those aged 18 to 44, for whom vaccination has only recently begun.
India started its vaccination campaign in January and has so far administered over 17 crore doses, but the pace has been challenged, with states running out of stock and closing centres.
Due to a shortage of vaccine doses, several states, including the national capital Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, have postponed the start of the third phase.
There are currently two vaccine options available in India- Covishield and Covaxin, with a third – Russia’s Sputnik V – being approved for emergency use and expected to be available soon. The centre also stated in its affidavit that it is in talks with manufacturers such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to get their products in.
International medical journal The Lancet has criticised the vaccination policy, calling it “botched” and stated that the government has only vaccinated less than 2% of the population so far.