The Delhi High Court on Friday urged the Central and Delhi government authorities to expeditiously address the shortage in COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin for administering second dose of the vaccine (Ashish Virmani vs GNCTD, Rajeev Parashar vs GNCTD).
The Bench of Justice Rekha Palli said,
"You are now trying to go into damage control mode by asking private hospitals to administer only the second dose of Covaxin. It is clear you cannot vaccinate all the people."
The Court gave both the Central and Delhi governments time to obtain further instructions and to put all communication on record. The matter will be heard again next week.
Justice Palli was hearing a petition highlighting the shortage of vaccines that arose in the capital during the administration of the second dose of Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin to the 18-44 age group.
Earlier this week, the Court had asked the Delhi government and the Central government when they would be able to administer the second dose of the vaccine to those who had got their first dose. The Court had also issued notice seeking the responses of the Centre and the State in this regard.
Advocate Anuj Aggarwal, appearing on behalf of the Delhi government, told the Court that Bharat Biotech had assured them a supply of 5 lakh doses for May 2021 and 20 lakh doses for June 2021. In the same letter, Bharat Biotech had also promised the Delhi government an additional 25 lakh doses for the month of July. Despite this written confirmation, they ended up giving only 1.5 lakh this month, out of the promised 5 lakh doses.
Aggarwal added that the Centre had issued directions to the State to not reserve Covaxin stocks for second dose and to administer first dose to as many people as possible instead.
Despite this, the Delhi government planned to administer up to 90,000 doses of the vaccine between June and July with the remaining stocks, Aggarwal told the Court.
He also drew the Court's attention to an order issued by the Delhi government on June 3, 2021, asking all government vaccination centres to administer Covaxin only to those who are eligible for their second doses (18-44 age group). The same order also issued an advisory to all private hospitals administering Covaxin to prioritize it for those eligible for a second dose.
Justice Palli questioned the timing of the letter as it came one day after this plea was heard in the High Court.
"Only now you have woken up and are saying all this," she said.
Aggarwal also brought forth the minutes of a meeting that took place between all the states and union territories, under the Chairmanship of the Central government's Secretary of Health & Family Welfare. The meeting happened on March 31, 2021 with a view to review the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
According to the minutes of the meeting on record, the Secretary of Health & Family Welfare had responded to a query raised by Andaman & Nicobar Islands regarding vaccine supply and had stated on record that, "States/UTs should not earmark vaccines for second doses and utilize all the doses available in stock."
The Court asked the Delhi government if it was trying to put the blame on the Centre. Aggarwal denied this accusation, and told the Court that these were the directives issues to them, so they were bound by it.
He then placed on record a letter sent to them by Bharat Biotech on May 11, that said, "We sincerely regret not being able to make additional supply of the vaccine."
The Court enquired why the supply hadn't come if they had placed the order.
Aggarwal replied that the Delhi government could not do it on their whims and fancies and that they were unaware of this picture earlier, as Bharat Biotech had assured them they would provide the supply.
He told the Court that suppliers should be called upon and asked to provide doses of the vaccine.
Advocate Deepak Parashar, one of the petitioners in the present case, was quick to point out that the Delhi government had been aware of Bharat Biotech's inability to supply Covaxin since May 11, 2021. Yet, they only stopped administering the doses on May 24, 2021.
At this point, Senior Advocate Ashish Mohan cautioned that the present discussion should aim to rectify the situation rather than getting into a blame game. He submitted before the Court,
"Delhi government is right in asking the government centres to not administer the first dose anymore. If this continues, we will get into a cycle of each person having to wait 3-4 weeks to get their second shot and the matter will persist before the Court. However, the Delhi government can issue a direction rather than just an advisory to all private hospitals to put the administration of the first dose on hold."
Mohan maintained that the Delhi government had the authority to do so under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Justice Palli also agreed that this would solve a substantial part of the problem.
The Senior Advocate also asked the Court to cancel registrations for the first dose on the COWIN app, but this was not accepted.
Finally, the High Court called upon counsel for the Central government to respond to the allegation that the Centre was issuing directives to the States to administer first doses, instead of reserving stocks of second doses of the vaccine.
Justice Palli added that the Centre in doing so had acted without considering the implications and now people were suffering because of this.
"Both the Centre and the State should do something about it. Share copies of certain communication on record. Both the counsels for the Delhi Government and the Central Government are to obtain instructions, especially in the view of the admitted position that 1.5 Lakh first doses were administered between May 1-24, 2021, to the ages 18-44. Therefore there was an urgent requirement that the beneficiaries are given their second dose of Covaxin," the Court said
The matter will be heard next on Monday, June 7.