Updated: September 7, 2021 7:07:12 am
The government’s decision to reduce the gap between two doses of the Covishield vaccine for only certain categories of recipients amounted to discrimination, Kerala High Court ruled on Monday.
The court directed the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to make necessary provisions in the CoWIN portal “forthwith” to allow anyone who wanted to schedule the second dose four weeks after the first in terms of the original protocol for vaccination, to do so.
The High Court directive came on a petition by Kochi-based KITEX Garments, which had sought a relaxation in the 84-day interval prescribed by the government for administering the second dose of Covishield to its employees.
The company had purchased the required number of doses, but could not administer them because the state government did not allow the second dose before the end of the stipulated interval. During the hearing, the Centre told the court that the 84-day gap had been fixed as per recommendations of the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.
The question before the court was whether a person is entitled to make a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid-19 infection in the case of paid vaccination.
Allowing the petition of KITEX, the Bench of Justice P B Suresh Kumar said: “However, I have not considered the question whether a person is entitled to make a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid-19 infection in the matter of accepting the free vaccine provided by the Government.’’
The judge said the material on record shows that Centre has relaxed the time interval between the two doses for students who have to undertake foreign travel for the purpose of education, for persons who have to take up jobs in foreign countries, and for athletes, sportspersons, and accompanying staff of the Indian contingent for the Tokyo Olympics.
“The materials also indicate that later, the said privilege was extended to Indian Government officials mandated to attend official commitments abroad. The privilege was extended again later to those individuals who have to travel abroad for other purposes such as for availing treatment services for any health problems, foreign nationals who have to return to their native countries, or to any other circumstances where such foreign travel may be unavoidable.”
Also, the court said, the state government on its own, without the concurrence of the central government, had relaxed the time interval between the two doses of Covishield for those going abroad for employment.
“These facts are not in dispute. In other words, the Government have permitted all those classes of persons to exercise the choice between early protection and better protection from Covid-19 infection. All those are not persons who reside and settle permanently abroad. Most of them are people who have to come back to India soon after their assignment. If the Government can permit persons who are intending to travel abroad to exercise a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid-19 infection, there is absolutely no reason why the same privilege shall not be extended to others who want early protection in connection with their employment, education, etc.’’
The court said the stand taken by the Centre that the court shall not grant the relief sought for by the petitioners, for they have not approached the Centre, cannot be accepted. The decision of the government to provide relaxation in the protocol to certain classes of persons alone amounts to discrimination, it said.
“In cases of this nature, according to me, the relief sought by the petitioners cannot be denied merely for the reason that the petitioners have not approached the Government for the same,’’ the court said.