By the time the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic came around, most people had become ignorant and turned a blind eye to the fact that the pandemic had not yet come to an end. Leniency towards the COVID-19 protocols portrayed that majority of Indians had failed to realize that there was a much more serious and deadly second wave ahead of them. But the question which arises here is that even the Government failed to take appropriate measures for the same. Is that what is expected from a ruling Government of a nation?
Even after having the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, India is facing a vaccine shortage attributable solely to the inefficiency of the Government.
Vaccine Diplomacy and Procurement
India’s vaccine diplomacy was a failure! The U.S and E.U placed their orders for vaccines in November 2020 whereas India decided to place its first order in January 2021 and that too for a really small quantity. Even after receiving the vaccines, the Government planned to first export the vaccines to other nations rather than storing them, which displays the true priorities of the Government i.e. building an image of its own, rather than saving the lives of its own citizens. The usual argument after this would be that U.S. and E.U. are two of the most developed countries, but Bhutan, which is the least developed country in South Asia, has also managed to vaccinate 93% of its population by the month of April. Another argument that would arise would be the ‘size of population’ for which the perfect comparison would be with China, which has administered approximately 101 Crore doses to its people whereas India has administered somewhere around 27 Crore doses in the month of June 2021.
Moreover, the Central Government had instructed States to procure vaccines on their own, which goes against the doctrine of ‘Cooperative Federalism’ which states that there should be proper coordination between the Centre and the States in order to promote the welfare of the citizens. The State, already having the burden of arranging for other medical resources could not afford to purchase vaccines too. The vaccine suppliers also denied to deal with State Governments separately and stated that they would be dealing only with the Central Government. However, recently the Central Government announced that it would take responsibility for the procurement of vaccines which is a good step in the right direction but was implemented way too late.
As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940, “for a drug which is discovered or developed in India, a clinical trial is required to be carried out in India right from Phase I till Phase 4 and the data should be submitted as prescribed”. However, the first dose of Covaxin was administered to the Indian public even before the results of the third phase clinical trial were out. The purpose of Phase 3 trials is solely to compare the results of the new medication to the already existing ones and to check the reliability of such medication.
The Supreme Court was also asked not to interfere with the implementation of Government policies, which is acceptable if the policies are inconsistent to the provisions of the Constitution or are arbitrary. However, in the present scenario, it was recently held by the Supreme Court In Re: Distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic that the vaccination policy for the age group of 18-45 years was arbitrary and irrational. It was noted that there was only paid vaccinations available for this age group and the Government had given full control of the vaccine procurement to the States, which the States were failing to handle as the vaccine manufacturers refused to deal with the States individually. There were also queries as to how the budget, which allotted of Rs. 35,000 crore for the vaccination drive was spent on vaccine procurement and why free vaccines could not be afforded.
A plea had also recently been filed before the Delhi High Court in the case of Ashish Virmani v. Government of NCT of Delhi 2021, wherein the petitioners raised concerns about whether the persons falling under the age group of 18-45 years and had received their first shot of covaxin would be able to receive their second dose within the prescribed time period of six weeks as there was a supply crunch of the vaccines. Clearly, this was not possible so a new policy was released by the Government prohibiting people under this category from receiving Covaxin if they had not received their first dose yet. In another instance, the Centre extended the time period between the two doses of the Covisheild vaccine to 12-16 weeks without any valid reason. It can be inferred that such a prohibition and extension was a result of the shortage of vaccines.
Violation of Articles 14 and 21
The vaccination policy of the Government also violates the citizen’s right to life and equality under Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution. Vaccines being essential to provide immunity against the virus, the Government in not ensuring sufficient supply of vaccines, mandating online vaccine registration and making a large portion of the vaccines paid, is depriving those who do not have access to the internet and those who cannot afford to pay for these vaccines. This consequently results in endangering the lives of such people, depriving them of the right to life under Article 21. Similarly, it violates Article 14 in so far as the rich urban people are in a position to afford vaccines on time as opposed to the poorer rural population. Another legal failure was seen in Uttar Pradesh, in the district of Meerut, where approximately 80% of the vaccines were given to Delhiites rather than the people of U.P. despite all the details on the Aadhaar card.
As per reports, only 7.78 % of the population of India has been vaccinated as of July 2021. In light of these statistics, the Government’s claim to get the whole population doesn’t seem to stand a chance. Even getting half the population vaccinated would be a great achievement. Moreover, booking vaccines through an online portal has been disadvantageous to the illiterate strata of a society incapable of engaging the internet. The first set of doses, whether free or paid can mostly be availed only by the economically privileged class of the society. However, according to the latest announcement by the Prime Minister, free vaccines would be available for all adults in India from 21st June 2021, and procurement of vaccines would again be taken up by the Central Government. If the Government is able to implement this properly, it would definitely be a great step towards overcoming this pandemic.