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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Explain tight control over vaccinations, Delhi High Court tells Centre

The court observed that the government was either donating the vaccines or selling them to foreign countries “rather than” inoculating its own people, when its approach should in fact be to vaccinate Indians urgently — “yesterday and not tomorrow”.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: March 5, 2021 12:55:12 am
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THE Delhi High Court on Thursday directed the central government to explain the rationale for keeping “strict control” over the class of persons who can be vaccinated at present against Covid-19.

The court observed that the government was either donating the vaccines or selling them to foreign countries “rather than” inoculating its own people, when its approach should in fact be to vaccinate Indians urgently — “yesterday and not tomorrow”.

The ongoing second phase of vaccination covers individuals older than 60 years and those between ages 45 and 60 with associated comorbidities. Healthcare and frontline workers were vaccinated in the first phase that began on January 16.

“The affidavit to be filed by the Union should disclose the rationale for such classification,” the court in its order on Thursday.

The division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli observed that the manufacturers of Covishield and Covaxin, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech respectively, have said they have the capacity, but “it appears” their production was not being exploited fully.

“…We should not have the situation where we are not even utilising their (the companies’) full capacity. They have the capacity to supply and manufacture. You are not utilising it because of a very restrictive kind of controlled approach,” the court said.

“We (India) are at the same time either donating to foreign countries or selling it off to foreign countries rather than vaccinating our own people. See, it is well settled and the experts are saying that there has to be a sense of urgency in this process of vaccination. You must try to vaccinate people yesterday and not tomorrow; that should be the approach,” it said.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma submitted that capacity would also involve logistics like training of staff and cold storage of vaccine stocks. The court asked whether there were such bottlenecks in the supply chain, and said they needed to be addressed if they indeed existed. The Centre had told the court earlier during the hearing that the existing arrangement of vaccination was based on a policy decision taken by an expert body.

The court had on Wednesday initiated a suo motu petition on a demand by lawyers for vaccination of all members of the judiciary, including judges, court staff, and advocates. In its interim order passed on Wednesday, the court had said the need of the hour was to vaccinate the masses “on a war footing” in order to secure the life and health of all those who step out of their homes.

The court had issued notices to the Centre, Delhi government and the two vaccine manufacturers, observing that “It appears to us that there is a weight in the claim made by the Bar Council of Delhi for declaring all persons associated with the judicial functioning, which includes the Judges, the Court Staff and the lawyers as frontline workers, so that they could receive vaccination on priority, and without limitations of their age or physical condition”.

During Thursday’s hearing, Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute told the court they have “excess capacity” as of now. The court directed them to file affidavits disclosing their capacity to manufacture vaccines on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and the excess capacity lying under-utilised with them.

The court also asked the companies to say whether they could scale up capacity if the need arose.

The court asked the central government to indicate its capacity to transport vaccines while maintaining the cold chain, particularly within the national capital, and to disclose the extent to which this capacity was being utilised at present.

It directed the Delhi government to inspect the medical facilities at court complexes in the districts of the national capital, and to report whether vaccination centres can be created there.

The court also directed the Delhi HC Bar Association and the Bar Council of Delhi to disclose their numbers to present a fair idea as to how many people would need vaccination within the judicial system in Delhi. The court also asked them to indicate how many would be covered under the existing policy of vaccination, and how many would be left out. The case will be taken up for hearing on March 10.

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