Allowed limited Covid vaccine export: Govt

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Only such quantity of Covid-19 vaccines that is beyond the manpower and infrastructural facilities available in India for the administration of doses was being sent to foreign countries, the Union government submitted in the Supreme Court on Monday.

The government also defended its decision to vaccinate those above 60, and between 45 and 59 with 20 identified comorbidities, holding that the prioritisation was based on a legitimate pandemic response system and to minimise mortality in the most vulnerable groups. The simultaneous vaccination of all the citizens without any priority classification, the government told SC, would lead to “commotion” and “flouting of the social distancing guidelines” which would defeat the purpose of the entire exercise.

In an affidavit filed in response to a public interest litigation (PIL), the government said that the vaccination drive needed sufficient number of medical staff, as well as infrastructural facilities such as hospitals and primary health centres across various states.

Maintaining that number of vaccines at India’s disposal would never be equal or proportionate to the available manpower and infrastructural facilities in the country, the affidavit stated: “The produced vaccine, which is beyond the manpower and infrastructural facilities available, is exported.”

It highlighted that “the Government of India has allowed only limited export of vaccines while according high priority to domestic needs”, in response to a contention in the PIL that vaccines were being sent to other countries while restricting the jabs for the citizens of India by creating subgroups.

A total of 7.6 crore vaccines have been provided by the Centre to states and UTs till date.

Stressing that any subclassification based on profession or trade would not be in the interest of the nation and the vaccination drive, the government rejected a demand by petitioner Arvind Singh to include judges, judicial staff, and lawyers, in the priority category for the administration of Covid-19 vaccines.

It noted that lawyers could not be classified as “frontline workers” only because they work for others because there were several other classes of citizens who could also be contributing to the society in similar ways. About 2.1 crore people have been vaccinated in India between January 16 and March 6.

On February 16, the court had issued a notice to the Centre on Singh’s petition.

Transfer all cases to SC: SII and Bharat Biotech

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi also appeared in the matter on behalf of the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech Ltd respectively, to complain against a similar case being heard by the Delhi high court.

Salve told the bench, which also included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, that the high court had been seeking various details as regards to production of the vaccines etc. He said that it would be in the fitness of things that the SC transferred to itself the proceedings pending before the high court so that the issues could be examined at one forum. Fixing the matter on March 18, the bench said that it would also consider the transfer petitions by the vaccine manufacturers on that day.

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