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Centre's COVID-19 vaccine policy seems 'detrimental to right to public health': SC

The apex court bench also directed the central government to formulate a national policy on admissions to hospitals within two weeks, which shall be followed by all state governments.

May 03, 2021 / 10:21 AM IST
Supreme Court (Image: Shutterstock)

Supreme Court (Image: Shutterstock)

The Supreme Court, on May 2, asked the Centre to revisit its COVID-19 vaccine policy, stating that the existing policy was a detriment `to the right to public health'.

"While we are not passing a conclusive determination on the constitutionality of the current policy, the manner in which the current policy has been framed would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health, which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution," the court order said.

The apex court bench, comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, issued an order in the suo moto case entitled "In Re Distribution of Essential Services and Supplies During Pandemic".

The top court also sought details of aid provided to Bharat Biotech, which manufactures Covaxin, and Serum Institute of India that produces Covishield, legal website, Live Law, quoted the Supreme Court order as saying.

The order also asked the Centre to clarify how pricing and procurement was determined. According to the existing policy, vaccine manufacturers can release 50 percent of their supply to state governments, and the latter can purchase doses directly.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The top court also directed the central government to rectify the deficit in supply of oxygen to National Capital of Delhi (NCT) on or before midnight of May 3.

The SC also asked the central government to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen for emergency purposes and decentralise location of the emergency stocks.

"The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days and are to be replenished on a day to day basis, in addition to the existing allocation of oxygen supply to the states," Live Law said.

Apart from this, the apex court also asked the central and state governments to notify all Chief Secretaries, Director Generals of Police and Commissioners of Police that any clampdown on information on the social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking or delivering help on any platform, will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by the court.

The Registrar (Judicial) has been directed to place a copy of the Supreme Court order before all District Magistrates in the country.

"The central government shall, within two weeks, formulate a national policy on admissions to hospitals, which shall be followed by all state governments," the SC bench added.

The bench clearly noted that till the time such a policy was formulated by the central government, no patient shall be denied hospitalisation or essential drugs in any state or Union Territory (UT) for lack of local residential proof of that state or UT, or even in the absence of identity proof.

"The central government shall revisit its initiatives and protocols, including on the availability of oxygen, availability and pricing of vaccines, availability of essential drugs at affordable prices and respond on all the other issues before the next date of the hearing," the legal website quoted the bench as saying.

The SC also asked the Centre to clarify how pricing and procurement was determined, directing both the Centre and state governments to put on record the efforts taken to curb the spread of the virus and the measures that they plan to take to counter the pandemic in the near future.

On the issue of imposition of lockdown, the apex court said that governments might also consider imposing a lockdown to curb the virus in the Second Wave in the interest of public welfare, but would have to make prior arrangements to cater to the needs of marginalised communities.
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