‘Treating lawyers as separate class will breach vax policy’

Against the backdrop of various PILs seeking vaccination of judges and lawyers, the Centre on Monday made it clear before the Supreme Court that it can’t prioritise vaccination on the basis of trade and profession.

In an affidavit, the government said as it is taking proactive measures based upon a rational and justifiable policy in connection with vaccination of people, depending upon their vulnerability to disease, nature of work, age and co-morbid health situation.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said it may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age and discriminating against persons engaged in other trades, professions or businesses.

“It may not be in the larger interest of the nation that the government starts sub-classification, either based upon the profession, trade, business or any other ground, at least at this juncture,” it said in the affidavit.

A national expert group on vaccine administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) was set up on August 7, 2020 and the government said that it has prioritised healthcare and frontline workers and others, including those aged 60 years and above and those aged between 45 and 59 with 20 co-morbidities, for vaccination.

The response from the government on a PIL by Arvind Singh against exclusion of legal fraternity from the priority category of population for administration of Covid-19 vaccine.

“Since January 16 till March 6, a total of 2.1 crore doses have been administered to prioritised beneficiaries over a period of 50 days,” the government said, noting that the US, the UK, Spain and Israel have undertaken vaccination for 3.2 crore, 76 lakh, 25.6 lakh and 55.4 lakh people, respectively.

Recently, the Delhi High Court had criticised the government for tightly controlling the use of vaccines manufactured by Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India and had also queried export of the vaccine. It had sought details on the inventory of unused stock and production capacity of the vaccine manufacturers.

On Monday, the two vaccine manufacturers, represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve, asked the apex court to transfer a pending matter to distribution of vaccine from the Delhi High Court to itself. The top court will hear, on March 18, the pending application manufacturers along with the PIL filed by Singh.

The government said once an epidemic takes form of a pandemic, its management has to be done keeping the entire globe as a unit, and it is not possible to take state or country specific approach.

On the aspect of export of vaccine, the government said: “Low/middle income countries as well as nations with limited access to pharmaceutical technologies are at debilitating disadvantages in dealing with the pandemic. To this end, government of India has allowed only limited export of vaccines while according highest priority to domestic needs.”