The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the central government to review its COVID-19 vaccination pricing policy.
“If the central government’s unique monopolistic buyer position is the only reason for it receiving vaccines at a much lower rate from manufacturers, it is important for us to examine the rationality of the existing Liberalized Vaccination Policy against Article 14 of the Constitution, since it could place severe burdens, particularly on States/UTs suffering from financial distress," the top court said.
A special bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, was hearing the case concerning the price of vaccines in the country. The bench has directed the Centre to place on record relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking in COVID-19 vaccination policy.
The government also needs to place the entire data on record giving its purchase history of all COVID-19 vaccines amid concerns raised over the price of jabs, the apex court said.
The top court has told the government to explain the price of COVID-19 vaccine shots in India as compared to their prices globally.
Commenting on the cost of production that Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) are incurring, the court noted, “Since the central government has financed (officially, Rs 35 crores to BBIL and Rs 11 crore to SII for phase 3 clinical trials) and facilitated the production (or augmentation of production) of the vaccines through concessions or otherwise, it may not be accurate to state that the private entities have alone borne the risk and cost of manufacture.”
It added that the government would have minimised the risks of the manufacturers by granting emergency use authorisation to the vaccines, which should factor into its pricing.
The court reiterated that the government must consider utilising its position as the monopolistic buyer and pass down the benefit to everyone. “Even if the states/UTs were to fund the higher-priced vaccines, these funds are expended at the behest of the public exchequer,” it said.
The Centre must explain the reason intervening in pre-fixing procurement prices and quantities of vaccines for states/ UTs and private hospitals, but not imposing statutory price ceilings, the apex court has directed.
The court has also demanded an explanation on whether SII/BBIL formally invited contracts for voluntary licensing and if so, whether they have received viable offers.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court called out the Centre’s paid vaccination policy for people between 18-44 years and termed it 'arbitrary' and irrational'.
Apart from seeking justification for the vaccines’ pricing policy, the Supreme Court has asked the government to inform about its preparedness with respect to the needs of children as the fear of the third COVID-19 wave looms.
(Edited by: By Kanishka Sarkar)
First Published: IST