Kerala High Court asks State Govt. to respond on stock details of COVID-19 vaccines

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A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Tuesday asked the State government to inform the court whether the stock details of the COVID-19 vaccines could be posted on the COVID-19 Jagratha portal of the State.

The Bench comprising Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan and Justice M.R. Anitha passed the directive when a public interest litigation seeking a directive to disclose the available stock of vaccines with the Central government came up for hearing.

During the hearing of the case, the Bench orally observed that there must be transparency in the distribution of vaccines.

According to the petition, lack of information about the available number of doses had led to chaos and crowding in various vaccination centres. In fact, the vaccine manufacturers’ refusal to disclose their production capacity had created a lot of confusion among the people. If the manufactures could not disclose their actual production capacity the possibility of duplicate vaccines entering the market and black marketeering could not be ruled out. The Centre should state how much vaccines it was importing or going to be imported.

The petitioner alleged that the Centre had not yet given any details or clarification about the stock of imported vaccines. The non-availability of the proper data regarding the number of vaccines available and the number of persons registered in the CoWin portal would make the job of the health workers very difficult. The issue of vaccination scheduled without a vaccination supply calender would cause chaos in vaccination centres.

The petition also sought a directive to the State government to announce each week the supply calendar of vaccines for all the health centres, vaccination centres and private hospitals.

Meanwhile, the court asked the Centre to respond to a plea for invoking the compulsory licensing to permit other capable vaccine manufacturers to produce Covid vaccines.

The petition said that the scarcity of vaccines was mainly due to the shortage in their production. All capable Indian companies could be allowed to produce COVID-19 vaccines by invoking the compulsory licensing system. This had been approved by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In fact, the countries were free to issue compulsory licenses during emergencies. Besides, compulsory licensing had been permitted under the Patents Act of 1970. The countries were also free to decide what constitutes an emergency. The patent owner must be suitably compensated. So there was no scope of a backlash from Geneva.

Moreover, rigours of protection of intellectual property right as per the TRIPS agreement had already been relaxed with respect to life saving medicines, in case of national emergency in Doha Summit WTO as early as 2001, the petitioner added.

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