• West Bengal Government has approached the Honorable Supreme Court through an affidavit asking for Uniform price for COVID Vaccines under the suo moto case taken up by the Apex Court regarding the distribution of essential supplies during COVID.
• The West Bengal Government has also sought directions to the Center to take steps for compulsorily licensing the vaccines and expand vaccine production through different manufacturing companies in India to boost vaccine availability at administered prices.
Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 all around the world, everyone was trying to find a way to cure this deadly disease however, we all are aware of how difficult it was. India is one of the first countries that were able to make a vaccine for the same yet it wasn't the happy ending. To vaccinate the whole country of one-hundred and thirty crore people is a difficult job in itself. However this was not the only issue, there are many other factors to consider after the vaccine was made. The latest issue concerning the vaccine is its price. The manufacturers who developed Covishield and Covaxin are providing both the vaccines at different rates to the Central government and at a different rate to the State Government. This article talks about the prices of the COVID Vaccine and the demand of the West Bengal Government to the Supreme Court. The Central Government and the State Government are being sold the Vaccine at different prices by the Manufacturers. The Prices of the Vaccine to the Central Government are lower than the prices for the State government. As of now, the Center is to buy 50% of Vaccines for the vulnerable group that is above 45 years of age and frontline workers and health workers, etc. and they will be vaccinated by the Central Government for free. The State government is responsible for the people belonging to the age group of 18-45 years of age and it is at the discretion of the State government, whether they want to provide free vaccine or not.
West Bengal Asks For Uniform Rates Of COVID Vaccines
The State of West Bengal through an affidavit has made prayers and suggestions to the Supreme Court in the suo moto case taken up by the Court concerning the distribution of essential supplies during COVID. On 27th April 2021, the Honorable Supreme Court has issued directions asking the States to clarify the infrastructure facilities available concerning basic medical facilities like Supply of Oxygen and Oxygen preparedness in the State, availability of required drugs, etc. West Bengal submitted to the Honorable Supreme Court to consider directing the Central Government to adopt the technical specifications and guidance on oxygen sources and distribution strategies for COVID-19 patients prepared by the World Health Organization (‘WHO’) on 04th of April 2020 in its medical oxygen distribution national plan. It also submitted to the Court that as of 28 April 2021, a total of 1, 04, 38,235 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the State, from which a total of 84, 67,479 beneficiaries have received their first dose 10 and a total of 19, 70,756 beneficiaries have received their second dose.
The State of West Bengal first of all has asked the Supreme Court to consider directing the Central Government to keep aside the different prices of COVID Vaccines and introduce a Uniform Rate. Pointing out the price difference, the State of West Bengal has said that prices will be double for them as each person requires two doses. The State has further submitted in its affidavit that the basis on arriving on a figure of Rs.300 for Covishield and Rs.600 for Covaxin is completely opaque and it is also higher than the rate at which vaccines are provided all around the world. The State also said that it may be pointed out that Phase III of vaccination policy does not compel the private vaccine companies to supply the entire vaccine stock to the Government of India or the public sector. Instead, these companies are deregulated to the extent of having the liberty to sell 50 percent of the vaccine doses in the open market, while supplying the other 50 percent to the Centre. The press release further indicates that the Centre shall have discretion in sharing its 50 percent with the States on basis of the State's performance and extent of infection. Now, as an outcome of this vaccination policy, the States are being compelled to buy vaccines from the open market, where higher prices are fixed by the two vaccine manufacturers. Therefore, the cost of vaccinating the 18 to 45 demographic shall either be borne by the individual States, or the individual citizen seeking vaccination from a private hospital. The State of West Bengal also stated that for the sake of transparency the two manufacturers of the vaccines should explain why there is such price difference present for State and Central Government. The State has also said that the basis of different prices by the manufacturers is not founded on any intelligible differentia and is per se manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory. At last, the State suggested and prayed before the Honorable Court that the Government of India should set aside these differential prices for vaccines and there should be a uniform rate for everyone, irrespective of who is buying.
As the number of vaccines has rolled out all around the world for fighting the Global Pandemic-COVID-19, we all are hopeful that it will help us in getting rid of this virus for good, after living in dread for more than one and a half year. Now, when finally there is a vaccine present to fight this disease, all the governments around the world are trying to make the vaccine available to every single individual. Like every other country, India is also trying to provide vaccines to maximum people at the minimum price possible. For the vulnerable group of people which majorly consist of people who are above forty-five years and the health workers and the frontline workers vaccines are currently free of cost in India by the Central Government but when it comes to the age group of 18-45 years of age of people, some states are providing free vaccination while we cannot ensure for others that whether they will provide free vaccine or not. Either way, I believe that there is no harm in paying for our health if we can afford it. It will be good if the vaccination process is free for the people who cannot afford the vaccine but one’s who can, they should not hesitate if they are asked to pay.