Supreme Court on May 31 pressed Centre on COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy, differential pricing and the need for mandatory registration on the CoWIN app for people to get vaccinated. The apex court said that the "government keeps saying digital India, but it needs to have an ear to the ground".
While hearing a suo motu case on the management of COVID situation in the country, a special bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindrabhat said that since the Centre has made CoWIN registration mandatory for vaccination, how is it going to address the issue of digital divide facing the country.
"You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policymakers must have their ears on ground. You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer, from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide," the bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
It asked the Centre to "wake up and smell the coffee" and see what is happening across the country.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
"What about the digital divide. Government says people can register through friends and NGOs. Our own law clerks have tried to register, we know what the situation is. How do you expect people in rural areas to register?" it said.
It directed the Centre to place the policy document on record.
On the government's vaccine procurement policy, SC said that states like Punjab and Delhi are in the process of issuing global tenders to procure foreign vaccines for COVID-19.
"Will every state, Municipal Corporation be left to their own devices to procure vaccine? Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) might be able to procure, it has a budget greater than many states, smaller states will struggle," the court said.
Is this the policy of the central government that the state or municipal corporation can procure the vaccine or the Union Government is going to procure for them like a nodal agency? We want clarity on this and the rationale behind this policy, the bench said.
The court also questioned differential pricing of COVID-19 vaccines for states and Centre. "We can’t have differential pricing for the Centre and States. Why leave it to the vaccine manufactures to fix different pricing," the bench asked.
The court directed the Centre to reply to the questions and adjourned the matter for two weeks.
Earlier, the top court had constituted a 12-member National Task Force to formulate a methodology for the scientific allocation of Oxygen to states and UTs for saving lives of COVID patients and to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic.Click here for Moneycontrol's full coverage of COVID-19