The Kerala High Court on Friday asked the Central Government to place a time frame within which it is likely to provide the COVID-19 vaccines allocated for the State of Kerala.
A Bench of Justices Raja Vijayaraghavan V and MR Anitha made the oral request while also seeking the Centre’s response on a plea for transfer of technology and patent rights concerning Bharat Biotech’s vaccine, COVAXIN, so that other manufacturers may also produce the said vaccine (Dr KP Aravindan v. Union of India and ors).
“When are we going to get the vaccine? … If you delay the whole thing, new mutations will come up, people will die… We have asked you to put up details of vaccines to the State of Kerala.. Where is it,” the Court asked during the hearing today.
The Court clarified that it is only asking for details on the time frame within which the vaccines allocated for Kerala would be supplied.
Referring to statistics uploaded on a State website, the Court expressed concern over the number of persons yet to get their vaccine doses.
“Give a time frame within which vaccines will be supplied to Kerala… The way in which (it is to be supplied) and the time within which vaccines can be supplied for immunising Kerala. Give a timeline so we can get a picture … We want to just get an idea,” the Court requested the Centre.
The Centre, in turn, assured that it can file a statement on this aspect if some time is given.
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Prasanth Sugathan contended that there are at least 19 other vaccine manufacturers who may be able to produce the vaccine if the Centre agrees to transfer the technology. In this regard, he also referred to the Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (KSDP).
Appearing for the Centre, standing counsel Raj Kumar argued that these are matters lying in the realm of Central government policy. He added that there are intricacies involved and that the Centre can place its stance before the Court if some time is given.
In view of the request, the Court posted the matter on Friday.
The Court, on its part, expressed concern whether there are facilities in the State with sufficient bio-safety levels to manufacture COVAXIN. Justice Vijayaraghavan observed that COVAXIN is an inactivated virus, which requires level 3 bio-safety facilities for its production. As such, he queried whether there are any laboratories that can safely produce the vaccine.
State Attorney KV Sohan submitted that the focus right now should be on ensuring that the Centre provides as many vaccines as possible to Kerala.
“None of us are experts. We don’t know if the technology is available.. if the Centre issues technology and order (for vaccine manufacture by other units), the State is happy. But these are not matters within the realm of the State … direct the Centre to give as many vaccines as possible.. Manufacturing here may be wishful thinking, which may be impractical as of now… These are all based on TV news… We want as much vaccines as possible, whether it is from Russia, Cuba… It is the responsibility of the Centre to make it available,” Sohan argued.
The petitioner also made certain other prayers concerning COVID-19 vaccination including:
- To set aside the Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategyin so far as it sets different prices for procurement of the vaccines for States and the Centre;
- That the Central government be directed to distribute vaccines to all age groups, free of cost;
- That the Union of India, the Union Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) transfer the technology for manufacturing COVAXIN to all manufacturers capable of manufacturing the vaccine;
- That the Central government authorities fix a price ceiling for COVID-19 vaccines;
- That the Controller General of Patents expedite vaccine procurement, whether from international or national sources;
- That the use of other vaccines, not limited to Pfizer, Moderna etc. be authorised for emergency use;
- That the concerned authorities publish information concerning the IPR of vaccines for the knowledge of the public.
Advocate Sugathan argued today there is a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution (right to equality) involved in creating two classes in the vaccination policy i.e. the State and the Central government. States are now put in a position where they have to compete with each other to buy vaccines, he submitted.
He added that it is the money of citizens that is being spent by the State to buy the vaccines, while enabling profiteering by Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech.
In so far as technology transfer is concerned, advocate Sugathan pointed out that ICMR and the Central government owns the Intellectual Property rights for Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN. This can be transferred to other manufacturers to ramp up vaccine production, he argued.
He added that Niti Aayog’s VK Paul has already stated that the technology can be so transferred to anyone willing to produce the vaccine. What is needed now is for the Centre to issue such an open call so that interested and capable manufacturers can join in to produce the vaccine, he submitted.
He further argued that it is possible to incorporate the required biosafety levels into the proposed manufacturing units within a short time.
“What is needed is isolation, sealable for decontamination, double door entry… They may not have it, but this is not difficult to make. This is something that can be done in a short time”, Advocate Sugathan said.
While calling for the Centre’s response on this issue, the Court orally remarked that it first wants to ensure that the vaccines already allocated to the State would be provided.
“What we can see, once the (new vaccine) policy was rolled out, vaccination has gone down,” advocate Sugathan pointed out as the Court perused vaccination statistics in Kerala.
“I just want to ensure that the 50% allocated to the state, that comes here… first let us look at that,” Justice Vijayraghavan said.
On its part, the State today informed the Court that all details regarding available vaccine stocks in Kerala has been uploaded district wise on the health.kerala.gov.in website.