A poor person and a multi-millionaire in the age group of 18 years and above are equally entitled to get the Covid vaccine free of cost and every effort is being made to ensure access of "safe and effective" ones at the earliest in the country, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Saturday. A 375-page affidavit was filed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in response to a slew of questions raised by the apex court in its May 31 order while hearing the suo motu case related to Covid management in the country.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud had slammed the Centre's Covid vaccination policy, describing as "prima facie arbitrary and irrational" allowing states and private hospitals to charge those in the 18-44 age group while the jabs were offered free for groups in the first two phases, and ordered its review. Seeking to scrutinise the Covid vaccination policy in detail, the top court had also asked the Centre to provide information including as to how Rs 35,000 crore, earmarked for vaccines, has been spent so far, and to place on record all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking culminating in the policy.
Bringing the revised "Covid-19 Vaccine Operational Guidelines" on the record, the Centre's reply affidavit said, "Under the revised guidelines, government of India will procure vaccine and supply free of cost to the states/ UTs to vaccinate all persons above 18 years of age from 21.06.2021 and this will ensure that 18-44 years persons will also receive free vaccine from government Covid vaccination centres." "To put the same position differently, a person below poverty line and a multi-millionaire are equally entitled for the very same vaccine in the age group of 18 years and above free of cost," the affidavit said.
Only those who have the ability to pay and voluntarily chose to pay are encouraged to use private hospitals' vaccination centres so that the stress on public utilities can be reduced to the extent possible, it said. The sum total of revised and reviewed vaccination programmes is that the Central government will procure vaccines and make every effort possible to ensure that the people of India have access to safe and effective vaccines at the earliest, the reply affidavit said.
It said more than 31 crore vaccine doses have been administered across the country and the government has allowed on-site registration for vaccination to bridge the digital divide and solve the issue pointed out by the top court. The affidavit also dealt with the issue of shortage of medicines like Amphotericin to deal with Mucormycosis and Remdesivir.The apex court's May 31 order, uploaded on its site on June 2, was critical of the Centre's decisions on liberalised vaccination policy, differential pricing of vaccines for Centre, states and private hospitals, basis of such a norm and mandatory registration on CoWIN app for booking slots for jabs in view of huge digital divide between rural and urban India and sought response from the government on its queries in in two weeks.