Centre's Vaccine Policy Prima Facie Detrimental To Right To Health, Should Revisit: Supreme Court

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In a late night order on Sunday, the Supreme Court said the manner in which Centre’s current vaccine policy has been framed would prima facie result in a detriment to the right to public health, an integral part of Article 21 of Constitution and asked the Centre to revisit the policy. The court also directed the Centre to prepare for buffer stock of oxygen and decentralize it’s access to various states as well. The court said that in case regular supply of the oxygen were to be disrupted, the buffer stock can be used. The bench comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bharat passed the order.

The order was reserved on April 30 where the Centre had presented an analysis of its distribution of oxygen amid the crisis. In the same order, the court also asked the Centre to frame a national policy around hospitalization. “Till the formulation of such a policy by the Central Government, no patient shall be denied hospitalization or essential drugs in any State/UT for lack of local residential proof of that State/UT or even in the absence of identity proof,” the bench directed.

“We direct the Central Government in collaboration with the states to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances. The location of the emergency stocks shall be decentralised so as to be immediately available if the normal supply chain is disrupted to any hospital for any reason. The emergency stocks shall be created within the next four days.” the order read about surplus oxygen stock.

The Court also directed that with regards to social media posts of people seeking help or citing grievances, the central government and state governments shall notify “all Chief Secretaries/Directors General of Police/Commissioners of Police that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by this Court.”

On Centre’s vaccine policy, the court observed that “there are several aspects of the vaccine pricing policy adopted by the Central government which require that policy be revisited. All vaccines, whether in the quantity of 50% purchased by the Central Government or the remaining 50%, are to be used for vaccinating citizens.”

“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. Therefore, we believe that the Central Government should consider revisiting its current vaccine policy to ensure that it withstands the scrutiny of Articles 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution,” the bench said.

The court also questioned the Centre’s vaccine registration process as to how will those people who do not have access to digital means or applications access the vaccines. the bench also asked the central government to target efforts in vaccinating crematorium workers who were not considered as frontline healthcare workers.

The Centre and the state governments were also asked to provide a breakup of the current and projected availability of vaccine stocks for the next 6 months and a timeline for achieving immunization of those aged between 18-44 years.

The Court also sought details regarding the aid provided to the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. It sought details of whether the Finance Ministry or any other funding organization of Centre has made any grants or sanctions to Bharat Biotech and SII in the past, like the current infusion of Rs 1500 crores. If so, the Court sought a breakup and correlation with the total cost of development and production of the two vaccines.

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