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Supreme Court asks Centre to clarify rationale behind COVID-19 vaccine pricing

Hearing a suo motu case of oxygen shortage and other issues related to management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court said that High Courts shall not be restrained in passing any directions as they they know the ground situation in their states better.

April 27, 2021 / 02:29 PM IST
Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court on April 26 said Centre must clarify the rationale for pricing of COVID-19 vaccines and that modalities should be put in place to ensure shortage of doses would be looked into.

A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud said that the union government should clarify the projected requirements of vaccine doses as the vaccination coverage is being expanded starting from May 1 to the 18-44 age group.

Everyone above 18 years of age will be eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 from May 1, the central government had announced on April 19 as it liberalised the vaccination drive to allow states, private hospitals and industrial establishments to procure the doses directly from manufacturers.

India has granted emergency use approval to three COVID-19 vaccines – Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. All three jabs have a two-dose regimen.

The Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces Covishield, and Covaxin’s manufacturer Bharat Biotech have announced prices at which they will be selling doses to state governments and private hospitals. On April 26, the Centre had asked both vaccine manufacturers to lower the prices of their respective vaccines.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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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.

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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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‘Inform court of steps taken’

The top court said that a comprehensive panel of doctors should be made available for citizens to know steps that have been taken during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Justice Chandrachud added that the Centre would have to inform the court of steps taken to form an identified panel of specialists, which will be replicated at the state-level.

The apex court appointed senior counsels Jaideep Gupta and Meenakshi Arora as the amicus curiae in the matter.

The court was hearing a suo motu case of oxygen shortage and other issues related to management of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have to step in when we feel so and we need to protect the lives of people," Justice Chandrachud said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that the matter was being treated at the “highest executive level” and the state machinery.

“The prime minister is dealing with the issue," Mehta added.

The court also said that High Courts shall not be restrained in passing any directions as they are hearing the cases in their respective states and “they know the ground situation better”.

"High Courts are best equipped to deal with ground situation. We have no intention to interdict such proceedings. reason for our interference need to be understood in correct perspective. During national crisis SC cannot be a mute spectators," Bar & Bench quoted the top court as saying.

The bench asked state governments to file replies by April 29 with regard to their health infrastructure. The Supreme Court will hear the matter next on April 30.

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Moneycontrol News
first published: Apr 27, 2021 02:29 pm

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