SC slams Centre on charging 18-44 age group for vaccinations

The apex court said the policy of giving free COVID vaccines to people above 45 years of age while charging those below it is "prima facie arbitrary and irrational"

The Supreme Court also sought complete information on the percentage of population that has been inoculated with one and both doses.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday (June 2) pulled up the Centre for implementing a paid vaccine system for people in the 18-44 age group.

The apex court said the policy of giving free vaccines to people above 45 years of age while charging those below it is “prima facie arbitrary and irrational”.

The court observed: “Reports indicate that persons between 18-44 years of age have not only been infected by COVID-19, but have also suffered from severe effects of the infection, including prolonged hospitalisation and, in unfortunate cases, death. Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, we are now faced with a situation where the 18-44 age group also needs to be vaccinated, although priority may be retained between different age groups on a scientific basis.”

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“Hence, due to the importance of vaccinating individuals in the 18-44 age group, the policy of the Central Government for conducting free vaccination themselves for groups under the first 2 phases, and replacing it with paid vaccination by the State/UT Governments and private hospitals for the persons between 18-44 years is, prima facie, arbitrary and irrational,” the court order read.

Also read: 1 crore COVID-19 vaccines a day by mid-July: ICMR chief

In an order passed on May 31, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to provide complete information with numbers on all COVID-19 vaccines (Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V) purchased so far.

The division bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice S Ravindra Bhat sought the following information:

* Dates of all procurement orders placed by the Union government for all three vaccines

* The quantity of vaccines ordered as on each date and

* The projected date of supply.

“Centre says it gets a low price since it buys in bulk. If this is the rationale, then why do states have to pay a higher price? There needs to be one price for vaccines across the nation. The pandemic has evolved in the last two months,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The Court also sought complete information on the percentage of population that has been inoculated with one and both doses. The top court wants absolute numbers of the people vaccinated in villages, towns and cities.

The Union government is required to file an affidavit with all these details within two weeks.

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