The Central government has told the Supreme Court digital divide will not be an impediment to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Central government says that if a person does not access to either internet or digital device/s or does not wish to self-register, but wants to get vaccinated, he can visit nearest vaccination centre where the health worker of the centre would register him in the device of the respective centre in Co-WIN platform and he would be vaccinated.
"Walk-in [on-site registration] vaccination is permissible for all and digital divide is not a constraint for access to vaccination," the government underscored.
Thus, the government stated that there is no impediment on vaccination based on availability or otherwise of digital device or internet.
The reply from the Centre came in the suo motu case on COVID-19 management initiated by the top court.
A three-judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat hearing the matter, had earlier critiqued the vaccination policy of the government and termed it as "arbitrary."
The Centre stressed that such “on-site” registrations, “near to home registrations” etc. initiatives are not only ideas on paper but are in fact very proactively implemented as the figures of vaccination would demonstrate.
As per the Central government affidavit, out of the total 1,24,969 vaccination centers so far classified by the State Governments on Co-WIN as rural centre or urban centre, 93,044 vaccination centers, i.e. 74.45%, are located in rural areas.
Out of the 17,10,18,010 total doses administered through these 1,24,969 vaccination centers in the period from May 1 to June 23, 9,61,84,637 (56.24%) doses have been administered at the rural vaccination centers.
On the involvement of private hospitals in the vaccination drive, the Centre informed the top court that approximately, 55 per cent of the population of the country seeks and gets medical care and health services from private hospitals and 45 per cent gets health care services from government hospitals.
"In any public health program – be it vaccination or otherwise, involvement of private hospitals is always found desirable. It is respectfully submitted that as per the statistics available, approximately, 55 per cent of the population of the country seeks and gets medical care / health services from private hospitals and 45 per cent gets health care services from government hospitals," the affidavit said.
The Centre also submitted that it cannot "be disputed that unless the vaccine manufacturers have an incentive or financial ability", they may either not have the capacity to augment their potential or may not sense the viability to do so.
Though vaccination at all government vaccination centres is free of cost for all citizens, a new concept has been introduced in the reviewed policy to make private vaccination centres accessible to economically weaker sections of the society also by use of 'non-transferable vouchers'.
"Any person/ institution/ industry/ NGO having the financial ability can purchase such “non-transferable electronic vouchers” and give it to their staff / other economically weaker sections of the society," it was submitted.
The reply by the Centre also stated that such pre-paid vouchers can be redeemed by the recipient of the voucher on presentation of the same at private vaccination centres and can get free vaccination in private hospitals.
"Many industries or others can use this for their staff and any NGOs / voluntary organisations can give such vouchers to economically weaker sections," it was informed.
The government also clarified that door to door vaccination for disabled will not be carried on as it is not provisioned under the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.
This was because of issues such as risk of break in cold chain, vaccine wastage, delay in reaching health facility resulting in derailment of time schedule of vaccination programme etc.
An expert committee was constituted to examine the issue of door to door vaccination for the disabled comprising technical medical and domain experts. The committee recommended a community-based approach of Near-to-Home COVID Vaccination Centres (NHCVCs) for the differently abled and elderly citizens.
“NHCVCs follow a community-based approach where sessions can be conducted in non-health facility-based settings and are nearer to homes e.g. in a community centre, RWA centre/office, housing complexes, panchayat ghars,, school buildings, old age homes etc. home required homes, hostels for disabled persons etc,” the affidavit said.