SC seeks rationale for vaccine pricing, asks Centre to invoke Patents Act

By: |
April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

The Bench also said that it was not preventing the high courts from exercising their power under Article 226, “we intend to play a complimentary role and help on issues they are not able to look into.”

"The Union shall clarify the projected requirements of vaccine due to enhancement of coverage. Modality to be put in place to ensure that shortage and deficit would be looked into. The Centre to clarify basis and rationale for pricing of vaccine,” the SC said in its order."The Union shall clarify the projected requirements of vaccine due to enhancement of coverage. Modality to be put in place to ensure that shortage and deficit would be looked into. The Centre to clarify basis and rationale for pricing of vaccine,” the SC said in its order.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the central government to explain the rationale for pricing of the two Covid vaccines – Covaxin and Covishield – and what measures are in place to meet shortage when vaccination will be opened to up to all above 18 years of age from May 1.

A Bench comprising justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat also urged the Centre to examine the necessity of invoking provisions (like compulsory licensing) under the Patent Act to regulate prices of Covid vaccines, if necessary.

“Regarding pricing on vaccination different manufacturers are quoting in different prices. What is the central government doing about it? There are powers under the Patents Act. This is a pandemic and a national crisis. If this is not the time to issue such powers, what is the time?” Justice Bhat asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

“The Union shall clarify the projected requirements of vaccine due to enhancement of coverage. Modality to be put in place to ensure that shortage and deficit would be looked into. The Centre to clarify basis and rationale for pricing of vaccine,” the SC said in its order.

It also asked the Centre to explain how it is going to meet the surge of vaccine demand from May 1, as the vaccines are open to all above 18 years of age. “If vaccination is open to above 18, we need to know how you are going to meet the increased surge in demand for vaccines”, Justice Chandrachud asked the SG.

Besides, the Centre was also asked to submit steps taken by it to ensure the supply of critical drugs like Remdisivir, etc. “The Centre to apprise modality put in place for seamless communication between district collectors with the Union health ministry, along with daily monitoring,” Justice Chandrachud said.

It also directed the Centre to submit detailed data on the supply of oxygen, medicines, health infrastructure and vaccination drive. Justice Chandrachud asked the SG to submit details on the total availability of oxygen in the country, projected demand, augmented steps to fulfil the projected demand and a monitoring mechanism in place to ensure the proper supply to affected states. The justice also asked the Centre to submit details of the methodology used to allocate oxygen to states from the central pool.

“The Centre will apprise the court about steps taken to form an identified panel of specialists which will be replicated at all state levels,” the SC said. “We need to know about the use of central resources of paramilitary forces who have paramedics and army facilities and army doctors and railways. These are common facilities that can be made available for quarantine, vaccination or beds. What is the national plan for this?” Justice Bhat asked the Centre.

The SC will next hear the matter on Friday.

The Bench also said that it was not preventing the high courts from exercising their power under Article 226, “we intend to play a complimentary role and help on issues they are not able to look into.”

It also said that while high courts were in a better position to monitor situations in individual states, the SC cannot sit quietly during the crisis. “Our role will be to coordinate efforts between states. It is necessary for the SC to intervene for coordination of the national effort. At the time of a national crisis, the SC cannot be a mute spectator,” the SC said.

The Centre’s vaccination policy allows private vaccine manufacturers to set the price themselves. Serum Institute of India, which produces the Covishield vaccine, has announced that it will sell it to the states at Rs 400 per dose and to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose. The Central government as of now is procuring Covishield at Rs 150 per dose.

Bharat Biotech, which produces Covaxin, had decided to sell it to states at Rs 600 per dose and to private hospitals at Rs 1,200 per dose.

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