Why has the Gujarat government not permitted spot registrations for Covid vaccination for the 18-44 age group when the central government from May 24 has eased the procedure and allowed everybody above 18 years to make walk-in registrations at government-run vaccination centres, the Gujarat High Court asked the state government Wednesday while hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on the pandemic and its management. The court also asked the state government if why has it not placed global tenders to procure vaccines to which the state counsel said that the global vaccine manufacturers have stated that they were not going to enter into individual contracts with states.
The Gujarat government had Monday issued a statement saying vaccination slots for the 18-44 age group can only be booked through CoWin platform in the state and on-site registration will not be applicable for the time being. Nearly a month after vaccination opened up for the 18-44 years’ category, the state also continues to exclude the age group from vaccination in 23 districts.
On Wednesday, the state government, represented by Advocate General (AG) Kamal Trivedi, indicated before the high court that introducing walk-in registrations for the 18-44 category has not been feasible in Gujarat owing to a limited supply of vaccines in the country.
Trivedi also submitted 13.68 lakh vials (doses) of Serum Institute of India (SII)-manufactured Covishield and 2.49 lakh vials (doses) of Bharat Biotech-manufactured Covaxin, that is a total of 16.17 lakh doses, were received by the state government specifically for 18-44 age group, which could be used till the beginning of June. The doses committed by the two companies for June, the AG submitted, was much less — a total of nearly 10 lakh, with 8.30 lakh doses of Covishield and 2.46 lakh doses of Covaxin.
“We have been assured 10 lakh (doses) supply for June… We are at the mercy of these two manufacturers,” the AG said.
When the division bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Bhargav Karia enquired why the state has not placed global tenders to procure vaccines, government pleader Manisha Shah stated the global vaccine manufacturers “have stated they will not enter individual contracts with states”.
Referring to no spot registrations for the 18-44 age group, Justice Karia said: “What about spot registration? Suppose you have allocated 100 (doses at a specific vaccination site) for today, you can register online for 80, remaining 20 can be spot… What about those persons who do not have any access for registration in any manner whatsoever, why can’t you have spot registration?”
AG Trivedi said the state will look into the same to check if a viable method can be adopted to this effect.
On the issue of increasing mucormycosis cases in the state and shortage of the essential antifungal drug used to treat the disease, the bench observed the notification issued by the state government pertaining to distribution of Amphotericin-B is “vague”. It added the government notification also does not clarify how the drug can be procured from the eight nodal hospitals in seven districts, other government and private hospitals, the hospitals in the remaining 26 districts and who were the constituent members of the committee that will decide who gets the drug.
The bench also sought an explanation from the state government on why the designated venue of distribution in Ahmedabad was changed multiple times.
On May 19, the state circular had first designated SVP Hospital and Gujarat Medical Education Research Society (GMERS), Sola, as the two nodal hospitals for distribution of the drug to other hospitals in Ahmedabad. However, the next day the venue was changed from SVP Hospital to LG Hospital and on May 24 this was again changed to Ahmedabad Civil Hospital.
AG Trivedi informed the court that while SVP Hospital was designated in the first circular, the state government was informed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) that “there was some difficulty” as SVP Hospital is not wholly an AMC-run hospital. Following this, the venue was shifted to LG Hospital, but owing to shortage there were some altercations, following which AMC further suggested to the state that “it would be better if the state takes over” the distribution. The venue, the AG said, was then changed to state-run Ahmedabad Civil Hospital.
Paying the price of democracy: AG
During a discussion between the bench and the government counsel on ramping up health infrastructure in the preparedness of future surges of Covid-19 vis-a-vis India’s large population, the bench said by this metric, India can only be compared with China and not with other foreign countries.
The bench said, “The discipline which is there (in China), you cannot implement it here… Therefore, ramp up the infrastructure of the medical facility.” AG Trivedi agreed with the suggestion and added “as someone has rightly said, we are paying the price of democracy”. To this, the bench said: “In the name of democracy, we cross all lines.”