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Monday, April 12, 2021

How Delhi HC’s COVID vaccine urgency remark might be flawed

The Delhi high court directed the Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India to file separate affidavits mentioning their capacity to manufacture the vaccines on per day/ week/ month basis. Here's why.

The Delhi High Court on Thursday pulled up the Central Government for gifting, donating and selling COVID-19 vaccines to other countries instead of vaccinating the country’s own citizens on a priority basis. The Delhi HC demanded a “sense of urgency” in the matter. The high court expressed apprehensions over the non-utilisation of Coronavirus vaccines to their full capacity. The court has directed the country’s leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers – Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India (SII) to disclose their capacity to manufacture. Here’s why Delhi HC’s COVID vaccine urgency remark might be flawed.

“We are not utilising COVID-19 vaccines fully. We are either donating it to foreign countries or selling it to them and are not vaccinating our own people. So there has to be that sense of responsibility and urgency,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said. The high court directed the Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India to file separate affidavits mentioning their capacity to manufacture the vaccines on per day/ week/ month basis and also the current optic of the vaccines and how much unused capacity is lying. “The Union of India (UoI) shall explain the rationale behind keeping strict control over a class of persons who can be vaccinated as noticed in our last order. Under the present system, persons above 60 years of age and between 45 to 60 years with co-morbidities can receive the vaccination,” the high court said. Delhi High Court Bar Association and Bar Council of Delhi have been asked to file an affidavit disclosing the judicial strength. “It should indicate how many of them would get covered by the existing policy and how many would be left out,” the court said. The court has asked the Delhi government to carry out an inspection of medical facilities available in court complexes and to report if COVID-19 vaccination centres could be set up there and also the shortcomings in those facilities. The high court asked all the authorities to file their affidavits latest by March 9 and listed the matter for further hearing on March 10.

Delhi HC's COVID vaccine urgency remark might be flawed
The Delhi High Court | Source: New Indian Express

But how is Delhi HC’s COVID vaccine urgency remark might be flawed and has come to such a conclusion about the vaccination drives in the country? Their question is why is the government donating vaccines when there are lakhs of people still waiting to get vaccinated in India. Maybe the government will answer this question after the HC’s order mentioning the filing of separate affidavits by the authorities. The Delhi HC’s observation comes as Phase 2 of the inoculation drive entered its fourth day on Thursday with persons above the age of 60 and those between the age group of 45-60 with comorbidities availing the Coronavirus vaccine jab. The high court’s order came while it was hearing a PIL initiated by it to examine the demand of the Bar Council of Delhi to declare all people associated with the judicial functioning, including judges, court staff and lawyers as ‘frontline workers’ so that they could receive COVID-19 vaccination on priority and without any limitations on their age or physical condition.

The government stated on Thursday that India has recorded a total of 242 cases of the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants of the novel coronavirus infection. With 17,407 new cases and 89 deaths registered in the last 24 hours, the country’s overall caseload rose to 1,11,56,923, while its death toll surged to 1,57,435.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in India has crossed 1.77 crores, the Union Health Ministry stated on Thursday. The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16, 2021, with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated and vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) starting from February 2. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too on Monday took the first dose of Covaxin, India’s homegrown coronavirus vaccine developed by biotechnology firm Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

India has so far supplied COVID- 19 vaccine to a total of 15 countries and another 25 nations are in line at different levels for the jab, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said. He added there are three categories of countries that are keen to get the vaccine from India — poor, price-sensitive nations and other countries which directly deal with pharmaceutical companies that make the antidote. “I think right now we have already supplied to about 15 countries [as per my recollection]. I would say there would be another about 25 countries that are at different stages in the pipeline. But what it has done is today it has put India on the map of the world,” Jaishankar had told reporters at a press conference. He had also added that some of the poor countries across the world are being supplied the vaccine on a grant basis while others wanted it on par with what the Indian government is paying to the vaccine manufacturers.

India has sent consignments of anti-coronavirus vaccine doses as gifts to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Oman, Barbados and Dominica. As per the latest data, around 361.94 lakh doses of anti-COVID vials have so far been sent to various countries from India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday.

While the Delhi HC might be correct in saying that we could have helped 361.94 lakh Indians by giving them the vaccine, these are also extraordinary times. It’s not just about maintaining diplomatic relations with other countries but pulling out the entire world’s population from the horrific year that was 2020. We must also keep in mind that Indian scientists worked on the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine as well and it was one of the first vaccines we received. But it is also right that the judicial staff, judges and lawyers have been working hard and deserve to be categorised as frontline workers.

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