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Home >Politics >Policy >Classification for COVID-19 vaccine based on vulnerability to infection: Centre to Delhi HC

NEW DELHI : The Centre Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that classification of citizens for the purpose of COVID-19 vaccination is based upon most rational and non-arbitrary criteria depending upon their vulnerability to the disease either due to age or nature of work or co-morbidity health situation and it may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age.

The Centre made the submission in its affidavit filed in response to a PIL initiated by the high court to examine the demand to declare all people associated with the judicial functioning, including judges, court staff and lawyers, as “frontline workers" so that they could receive COVID-19 vaccination on priority and without limitations of their age or physical condition.

The government said any specific classification either based upon the nature of trade, profession or otherwise is neither possible nor advisable.

It said that in order to achieve the first objective of protecting India’s healthcare and pandemic response system, NEGVAC has prioritise healthcare workers, front line workers (personnel for state and central police department, armed forces, home guard and civil defence organization including disaster management volunteers, municipal workers, poll officers in election bound states), persons aged 60 years and above and those aged between 45 to 59 years with identified 20 co-morbidities for COVID-19 vaccination.

National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) has been established by the government to provide guidance on all aspects of COVID-19 vaccination.

The Centre, in its affidavit filed through Central government standing counsel Anil Soni, said the decision to include individuals above 50 years and 60 years in the priority list is based on vulnerability and the mortality risk of this age group for COVID-19 disease.

It added that a look at prioritisation criteria for vaccination from World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries showed that a step-wise layered approach is advisable.

The high court is scheduled to hear the matter on Wednesday.

Regarding the issue of export of vaccine to other countries, the Centre said once an epidemic takes form of a pandemic, its management has to be done keeping the entire globe as unit and in most circumstances it is not possible to take either states-specific or country-specific approach.

“…Hence, export of COVID-19 vaccine which facilitates global action to vaccination is important to simultaneously protect the high-risk population in all the countries of the world, thereby breaking the chain of transmission and minimising chances of import of COVID-19 cases from foreign countries as well as neighbouring countries to India," it said.

On the demand for treating lawyers as frontline workers, the government said any specific classification either based upon the nature of trade, profession or otherwise is neither possible nor advisable.

“Though the government has tremendous respect for the profession and the discharge of duties by these professionals for and on behalf of citizens of India and as part of administration of justice, those lawyers and other associates staff who are either above 60 years or between the age group of 45 to 60 years and are having any of the almost exhaustive list of co-morbidities would, in any case, be covered by the on-going vaccine drive," it said.

It added that it may not be desirable to create a separate class consisting of lawyers and others below 45 years of age and discriminating other similarly situated citizens engaged in other professions.

“The term ‘frontline workers’ is used only for those citizens who are required to be directly exposed to the COVID-19 infected patients. Thus, it may not be appropriate to discriminate them as against a separate class of lawyers as both are doing their respective duties towards the citizens under similar circumstances," it said.

The high court had on March 4 asked the Centre to explain the rationale behind keeping strict control over class of persons who can be vaccinated against COVID-19 currently as under the present system those above the age of 60 years or with comorbidities can receive vaccination.

It had said the two institutes which have developed the vaccines COVISHIELD and COVAXIN -- Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech -- have more capacity to provide the vaccines but it seems that their full capacity is not being exploited. It had also directed the two institutes to file separate affidavits on their capacity to manufacture the vaccines on per day/ week/ month basis and also the current optic of the vaccines and how much unused capacity is lying.

The high court was hearing a PIL initiated by it to examine the demand of Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) to declare all people associated with the judicial functioning, including judges, court staff and lawyers as “frontline workers" so that they could receive COVID-19 vaccination on priority and without limitations of their age or physical condition.

It had said premises and court rooms of the high court, which is scheduled to resume physical functioning from March 15, and some of the district courts are air-conditioned and with increased footfall, there is likelihood of the rate of infection amongst those who attend the courts spiking, once the full-fledged physical functioning of courts in Delhi resumes.

The court had referred to a communication sent to the chief justice by BCD Chairman Ramesh Gupta requesting that appropriate directions be issued to the concerned authorities to make available necessary infrastructure in court premises, particularly in dispensaries for vaccinating the members of the judicial system by treating them as frontline workers.

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