Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy!

The Central Government has announced recently a policy called: “Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy”, which says in para 7: In its phase-III, the National Vaccine Strategy aims at liberalized vaccine pricing and scaling up of vaccine coverage. This would, on the one hand, incentivize vaccine manufacturers to rapidly scale up their production and on the other hand, it would also attract new vaccine manufacturers.

Also read: Patent monopoly over Covid19 vaccine

Failure of the policy is evident by the fact that after taking all incentives and profit generating rating freedom to fix different prices for covishield vaccine, Adar Poonawalla left the country to manufacture vaccine in other countries.

The policy that would come in effect from 1st May 2021, in Para 7 further says: “It would make pricing, procurement and administration of vaccines more flexible and ensure augmented vaccine production as well as wider availability of vaccines in the country”.Vaccine manufacturers would supply 50% of their monthly Central DrugsLaboratory (CDL) released doses to Govt. of India and would be free tosupply remaining 50% doses to State Govts. and in the other than Govt. ofIndia channel.

Also read: Confusion over production, supply, and rate of vaccine

How could Poonawalla fix different rates?

If that is so, how could Adar Poonawalla fix price Rs 150 per dose to Centre, which took 50 percent of doses produced by SII, Rs 300 for states and Rs 400 to private use? Is it not the duty of the Centre to insist all doses for India at one price? This is unconstitutional and anti-people policy.

Article 39 says that the Government shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing– (c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment. Centre is doing exactly opposite of it.

Article 47 says: The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.

Poonawalla of Serum Institute, Pune

Entry 29 of the List III of the Seventh Schedule obliges the Central government to assist the states “to control interstate spread of infectious diseases”. Article 21 of our Constitution imposes an obligation on centre to make essential health care goods, services and facilities “available and accessible” to all and Article 14 says ‘without discrimination. Public health policy and international obligations also mandate this. The Central Government’s policy reflects complete abdication of this obligation.

Also read: Why should patients die of lack of oxygen?

Para 8 (v) of policy says: “Covid-19 vaccination will continue to be free for eligible population groups in all those Government Covid Vaccination Centres which receive vaccine doses from Govt. of India”.

This does not explain where they will distribute the 50 percent doses, they purchased from vaccine makers and what will happen to other fifty percent? A lopsided policy.

Para 8 (vii) says: The division of vaccine supply 50% to Govt. of India & 50% to other than Govt. of India channel would be applicable uniformly across for all vaccines manufactured in the country.

What is the meaning of “uniformly across” when there are different prices for different categories?

What does it do with 50 per cent stocks produced by these two vaccine makers? How do they distribute and where? Will it confine only to Union Territories? If they distribute them to states, how do they do? Next para gives enormous powers to Union.

Also read: Tahsildars and Covid Patients must file FIRs against cheating Hospitals

Violation of Art. 14

Para 8(ix) says: “Govt. of India, from its share, will allocate vaccines to States/UTs based on the criteria of performance (speed of administration, average consumption), extent of infections (number of active Covid cases)”.This is another discriminatory procedure not based on any legally acceptable formula leaving entirely to arbitrary discretion of some ministers or some babus loyal to ministers. This is yet another violation of Article 14.

Firstly Para 8(vii) imposes an obligation to make it uniformly accessible. This is followed immediately by para (ix) which contradicts and makes it impossible to provide uniform access. This policy is also against what has been practiced for the last 70 years as part of the universal immunisation programme (UIP), the Indian vaccine procurement system has centrally funded and procured all vaccines from manufacturers (public and private) and distributed them through the states to all persons free of charge.

Also read: Penal Provisions and Procedural Law invoked in FIR Against Chandrababu

The Centre has either sanctioned or facilitated or backed the Serum Institute of India to make huge profits by selling the covishield vaccine to the states in India at an exorbitant rate of Rs.300 and Bharat Biotech to sell covaxine at Rs 400. SII agreed to sell fifty per cent of its vaccine production to Centre at Rs 150, which must have included its profit margin.  Why the Centre allowed private companies to discriminate against states? It is a Constitutional atrocity, financial inequality and against the welfare of the entire India, because the nation is composed of states and the Union does not have exclusive territory except a few UTs.  Why the people’s money from state should be used to pay double the price of vaccine to a private company?  This policy of the Centre is in absolute violation of Article 21 right to life that includes right to health as the access has been unduly made unaffordable. It also violates Article 14 because the Centre takes 50 per cent of produce at half price that the price at which it is sold to states.

SII to produce vaccine in other countries

Adar Poonawalla of SII, who has capacity of 100 crore vaccine doses for year, has left India and is planning to produce it in other countries. Reportedly he complained that he was threatened to the extent that his head would be chopped off if vaccine doses are not produced and supplied to them. He talked about unprecedented aggression and serious implications. He said: “I’m staying here for an extended period because I don’t want to go back to that situation”. Then how can SII increase its production and assure states about supplies?

Now let us see what was stated by Government of India in its submission to the Supreme Court. It argued that prices should be set by “market forces.” Prices of Rs. 300 per dose for Covishield of (SII) and Rs. 400 per dose for Covaxin of BB for state governments have been fixed. The prices of Rs 600 and 1,200 per dose for private entities are far more than what is being paid abroad in developed countries. The SII vaccine is available in the European market at (USD 2.15) Rs 160 per dose, at (USD 2.10) Rs 210 per dose for GAVI, at (USD 3) Rs 222 in the UK and at (USD 4) Rs 297 in the US”.

Prices openly announced by the SII show that they are going to make 200% to 800% higher than the price paid by the Central government. How can a welfare state like India permit a private company to make profiteering on suffering and disease of the people during the pandemic crisis? Why this permission to exploit the people? What is the benefit or profit the rulers get out of it?

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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