Udayavni Special

Digital divide no more constraint as walk-in, free vaccination allowed: Centre to SC


PTI, Jun 27, 2021, 9:28 AM IST

New Delhi: The Centre on Saturday told the Supreme Court that the digital divide is no more a constraint as walk-in Covid vaccination has been permitted and a poor person and a multi-millionaire in the 18 years and above age group are equally entitled to get the vaccine free of cost. Till June 25, over 31 crore doses have been administered in the country to curb the pandemic, the government said while responding to a slew of questions raised by the apex court in its May 31 order during hearing of a suo motu case related to Covid management.

In a 375-page affidavit filed in the apex court, the Union health ministry said as per the projected mid-year population for 2020, the population of the country aged 18 years and above is approximately 93-94 crore and as such, administering two doses to these beneficiaries would require an estimated 186 to 188 crore doses. ”Out of this requirement, 51.6 crore doses will be made available for administration by July 31, 2021, leaving a requirement of approximately 135 crore vaccine doses for complete vaccination to the eligible population,” it said. Giving the breakup for vaccines’ quantity that may be receivable from all sources the Centre said 135 crore doses will be procured: Covishield (50 crore), Covaxin (40 crore), Bio E Subunit vaccine (30 crore), Zydus Cadila DNA vaccine (5 crore) and Sputnik V (10 crore). It said procurement of Bio E Subunit vaccine and Zydus Cadila DNA vaccine will be subject to approval which will come in the near future.

The Centre said every effort is being made to ensure access to ”safe and effective vaccines at the earliest”.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud had slammed the Centre’s Covid vaccination policy, describing as ”prima facie arbitrary and irrational” allowing states and private hospitals to charge those in the 18-44 age group while jabs were offered free for groups in the first two phases, and ordered its review.

Seeking to scrutinise the vaccination policy in detail, the top court had also asked the Centre to provide information including as to how Rs 35,000 crore earmarked for vaccines has been spent so far and to place on record all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking culminating in the policy.

Bringing the revised ”Covid-19 Vaccine Operational Guidelines” on record, the Centre’s reply affidavit said, ”Under the revised guidelines, the government of India will procure vaccine and supply free of cost to the states and union territories (UTs) to vaccinate all persons above 18 years of age from 21.06.2021 and this will ensure that 18-44 years persons will also receive the free vaccine from government Covid vaccination centres.” ”To put the same position differently, a person below the poverty line and a multi-millionaire are equally entitled to the very same vaccine in the age group of 18 years and above free of cost,” it said.

Only those who have the ability to pay and voluntarily chose to pay are encouraged to use private hospitals’ vaccination centres so that stress on public utilities can be reduced to the extent possible, the affidavit said.

The sum total of revised and reviewed vaccination programmes is that the Centre will procure vaccines and make every effort possible to ensure people have access to safe and effective vaccines at the earliest, it said.

It said over 31 crore vaccine doses have been administered in the country till June 25 and the government has allowed on-site registration for vaccination to bridge the digital divide and solve the issue pointed out by the top court.

”Now online registration and prior self-registration and booking of appointment on Co-WIN are not mandatory to avail vaccination services,” it said. ”It is submitted that, as of June 23, 2021, out of 32.22 crore beneficiaries registered on Co-WIN in the country, 19.13 crore (59 per cent) beneficiaries have been registered in the onsite (walk-in/non-digital) mode,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit said all necessary features to ensure every eligible individual has access to vaccination, regardless of any physical, digital or socioeconomic barriers, have been incorporated in Co-WIN.

It said on-site registrations, also called walk-in registration, and vaccinations have been permitted for all beneficiaries through a May 23 circular.

”It is humbly submitted that as of June 25, over 31 crore vaccine doses have been administered across the country and this includes 1,73,35,543 doses to healthcare workers,” it said.

”Total 44.2 per cent of priority population of persons above 45 years of age and 13 per cent of a population group of 18-44 years of age have received first vaccine dose,” it said, adding that 27.3 per cent eligible population of 18 years and above has received the first dose. On vaccine availability, the Centre said, ”Two vaccines (Covishield & Covaxin) have been a part of the vaccination programme since January 2021. Another COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V developed by Gamaleya Institute, Russia, has received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India) in April 2021 and is now being administered in India.” It also answered queries on the status of vaccine availability for children and said as of now, manufacturing companies have only been given EAU for vaccinating people of 18 years and above.

”Therefore, Covid vaccines are not recommended for persons/children less than 18 years of age and are due to the fact that clinical trial cohort during Phase 1, 2 & 3 did not cove children below 18 years of age,” it said. The ministry, however, said on May 12, the DCGI has permitted Bharat Biotech to conduct clinical trials on healthy volunteers between two to 18 years for Covaxin and the enrolment process has also begun.

The apex court’s May 31 order, uploaded on its site on June 2, was critical of the Centre’s decisions on liberalised vaccination policy, differential pricing of vaccines for Centre, states and private hospitals, mandatory registration on CoWIN app for booking slots for jabs in view of the huge digital divide between rural and urban India, and it had sought a response.

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