India began its national vaccination drive on January 16 (File)

New Delhi:

The centre has defended its Covid vaccination policy – criticised for differential pricing, shortage of doses, and slow rollout – in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court late Sunday night.

The affidavit urged against “judicial interference” and asked the court to leave decisions “taken by the Executive, based on expert medical and scientific advice… in the larger public interest”.

The Supreme Court, which last week directed the centre to reconsider vaccine prices on grounds that it would harm the public’s right to health – will hear the issue today.

“The policy, strategy and steps taken by the Executive, based on expert medical and scientific advice, have to be appreciated in the context of a medical crisis… as decisions are taken after detailed deliberations at highest level, no interference is called for in judicial proceedings, leaving it open for the Executive to discharge its functions in larger public interest,” the centre said.

The row over vaccine prices was after manufacturers Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech announced vastly different prices for the centre, state governments and private hospitals.

While the centre continues to spend only Rs 150 per dose of either Serum Institute’s Covishield or Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, states must pay Rs 400 per dose for Covaxin and private hospitals Rs 1,200. Covishield costs Rs 300 per dose for states and Rs 600 for private hospitals.

The vast difference in prices also triggered a political storm, with the Congress accusing the centre of “vaccine profiteering” and sarcastically reminding it of the “one nation, one price” war cry.

Last week the Supreme Court said compelling states to negotiate with manufacturers, on grounds of promoting competition and making it attractive for new manufacturers, would adversely affect those in the 18-44 age group, whose vaccination has only just begun.

“Whether or not essential vaccines will be available to them will depend upon the decision of each state, based on its own finances… This will create disparity across the nation. The vaccinations being provided to citizens constitute a valuable public good,” the court added.

During the first hearing on this matter, held last month, the court had said: “During the national crisis, Supreme Court cannot be a mute spectator. The role of the court is complimentary.”

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