The government on Monday faced tough questions about its Covid vaccination policy, with the Supreme Court demanding to know why there seems to be discrepancy in supply for different age groups, why states had to pay more than the centre for the vaccine, and how the centre planned to ensure people in rural areas can access the CoWIN digital platform.
The court was told the centre expected to vaccinate the entire population of the country by the end of this year, but concerns were rasied about the national vaccination policy, the functioning of the CoWin platform and decision to allow dual-pricing of vaccines.
The top court asked the centre why it was providing states with 100 per cent of doses required for the 45+ age group, but only 50 per cent of those needed for the 18-44 demographic.
“For entire population above 45, centre is procuring (vaccines) but for 18-44 there is bifurcation of procurement – 50 per cent available to states by manufacturers and price is fixed by the centre, and rest to be given to private hospitals. What is the (actual) basis for this?” the court asked.
“Your rationale was high mortality in 45+ group (but) in the second wave this group is not seriously affected… it is 18-44. If purpose is to procure vaccines, why should the centre procure only for over 45?” a three-member bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat asked.
“Why should states have to pay the higher price? Centre has to take over the responsibility of one price for the whole nation,” the court stressed.
Data released by the centre last week showed that nearly 26 per cent of all Covid cases between May 1 and May 24 were in the 18-44 age group.
Infected individuals over 60 – the demographic considered most at-risk in the first wave – only accounted for 13 per cent (or less) of all new cases in the first 24 days of this month.
The court also grilled the central government over the “digital divide”, pointing out that requiring people to register on the CoWIN digital platform before getting the shot will hamper vaccination efforts in rural areas, where access to the internet is unreliable.
“Everyone has to register on CoWIN (but) the digital divide… Is it realistically possible to expect (people) from rural areas to register on COWIN?” the court asked.
To the response: “Villagers can go to computer centres and register… and they will be vaccinated”, the court repeated its question: “Is this really practical?” and also pointed out that migrant workers travelling from one state to another were unlikely to have even that level of access.