Updated: April 30, 2021 5:06:04 am
WITH THE Supreme Court taking suo motu cognizance of some of the issues related to Covid-19 management, a Mumbai-based organisation on Thursday approached it, seeking a direction to the Centre to disclose its plans to increase Covid vaccine production capacities to meet any shortage and to procure the vaccines at the central-level and distribute them to the states. It also sought a direction to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to fix their price in accordance with the law.
The plea by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said vaccines are in short supply and many states have already made a demand for supply of additional doses. The supply of both Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield has been declining over the past few days and there is no guarantee that those who received the first dose would be able to get the second, it contended.
The application said a primary reason for the shortage is the limited number of manufacturers. A key reason for this are the patents granted to Bharat Biotech and Oxford University (on behalf of Astra-Zeneca).
Though the Centre has moved the TRIPS Council to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 related diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, this is a time-consuming process as many countries will have to give consent. But the Centre has power under the Patents Act to authorise any person in writing to use any invention to the purpose of the government and to issue a Compulsory Licence in case of a national emergency, extreme urgency or in case of public non-commercial use.
Countries like Hungary and Israel have issued government use authorisation for use of patents related to Covid treatments, the plea pointed out. It urged the court to direct the Centre to do the same with regard to the vaccines and drugs remdesivir, favipiravir and tocilizumab.
Pointing to the need to ramp up vaccine production, the plea said, “It is not known how long the immunity [after vaccination] lasts. If it lasts one year after a full dose administration [one or two doses] this might mean that every person has to be inoculated every year. In that case the need may be about 1.35 billion doses annually.”
On the pricing aspect, the plea said it is necessary that the maximum upper limit be fixed to make the vaccines affordable and accessible to realise the right to health and life for all in India. This should be done by the NPPA under the Drug Price Control Order 2013, which empowers the Authority to fix the ceiling price or retail price of any medicine in the public interest.
The court is likely to consider the suo motu matter on Friday.
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