The Supreme Court (SC) has asked the Centre to explain the rationale behind the pricing of the two COVID-19 vaccines -- Covaxin and Covishield. The apex court also demanded clarification regarding the measures put in place to tackle the shortage when the vaccination will be opened to all above 18 years of age from May 1.
The SC, on Tuesday, took into account the different prices of coronavirus vaccines for the central government, state governments, and the private hospitals, asking the Centre the "rationale and basis" behind such a pricing policy.
The top court, hearing a suo motu case pertaining to "distribution of essential supplies and services during a pandemic", also asked the government as to how it was going to meet the sudden increase in demand for vaccines from May 1.
"The Union of India shall clarify in its affidavit the basis and rationale adopted in regard to the pricing of vaccines," said the bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud while fixing the suo motu case for hearing on Friday.
"Different manufacturers are coming out with different prices. What is the Centre doing about it," said the bench, which also comprised justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.
In the proceedings conducted through video conferencing, senior advocate and SCBA (Supreme Court Bar Association) President Vikas Singh informed the bench that there have been different price slabs for vaccines to be procured by the Centre, states and the private hospitals.
The bench referred to the powers of the Centre under the Drugs Control law to control the price of medicines and said the pandemic was "perhaps the right time to invoke such powers".
"This is a pandemic and a national crisis. If this is not the time to issue such powers, what is the time," it asked.
The pricing policy has allowed vaccine manufacturers to fix the price and under it, the Serum Institute of India has announced that it will sell Covishield to states at Rs 400 per dose and to private hospitals at the rate of Rs 600 per dose.
However, it has been selling the vaccine at Rs 150 per dose to the Centre, one of the lawyers said.
Referring to expanding the age group of vaccination, the bench said, "if vaccination is open to above 18 we need to know how you are going to meet the increased surge in demand for vaccines."
The bench also asked the Centre to apprise the top court of the modalities on distribution of oxygen as well as the vaccines to states and the monitoring mechanism.
The bench on April 22 took note of the pandemic situation due to the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases as also in the mortality and said it expected the Centre to come out with a "national plan" to deal with the distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.
Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus is said to be an "essential part" of treatment, the top court had said it seemed that a certain amount of "panic" has been generated due to which people have approached several high courts seeking relief.
(With inputs from PTI.)