Health groups irked by Supreme Court order on vaccine PSUs; mull fresh petition

Press release on behalf of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) and co-petitioners

19 February 2018

Several health groups expressed their strong disappointment with the order of the Supreme Court (SC) of February 12, 2018, which refused to review or recall an earlier order disposing off a case against the mala fide suspension of the vaccine Public Sector Units (PSUs) and government’s tendency to pamper private sector with public money.

The court relied only on the Government’s claims regarding the revival and modernization of the suspended PSUs and did not take into account the last rejoinder of the petitioners that highlighted the increasing diversion of purchase orders to private sector at ever increasing prices. The groups are considering filing a fresh petition, as the court also said “in case there is any deficiency or neglect on the part of the Government…, the petitioner shall be free to seek appropriate redress in appropriate proceedings at the appropriate stage.”

The decade-old public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by former Union Health Secretary, S. P. Shukla and representatives of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), Low Cost Standard Therapeutics (LOCOST), Medico Friend Circle (MFC), and Society for Scientific Values (SSV).

The chief petitioner S. P. Shukla said, “We won half the battle with the revival of the suspended PSUs and their modernization for compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMP), under the pressure of our court case and the report of the governmental Javid Chowdhury committee. But their production is yet to be restored to pre-suspension levels, the responsibility for mala fide suspension was not fixed, and even the recommendations of the Javid Chowdhury Committee have not been fully implemented.”

According to S. Srinivasan of LOCOST, one of the petitioners, “The union government has not been buying vaccines from the public sector even after their revival. Government data show that the purchase orders to PSUs are declining and those to private companies are growing despite increasing prices. We highlighted all these issues in our last affidavit of 2016 to show that the Government of India is misleading the Supreme Court, but it was not taken into account before disposing off the petition.”

“We neither have a rational vaccine policy nor rational use of vaccines – for example, selective immunization has disappeared from government policy. New vaccines and their combinations of doubtful efficacy and safety are being introduced in the universal immunization programme. By shifting its procurement towards irrational cocktail vaccines made only by the private sector, the government is systematically reducing PSUs into component suppliers to the private sector”, said Dr. Mira Shiva of AIDAN, another petitioner.

N. Sarojini from MFC remarked, “Due to lack of government orders, the revived PSUs are forced to find private buyers for survival. Prior to suspension, the public sector supplied 85% of all universal vaccines procured by the government. Today, over 90% of the government purchases are from private sector.”

On behalf of the SSV, Prof. N. Raghuram stated, “Vaccines are prescription drugs but are being promoted like consumer goods through private immunization camps. It is unethical that all these dubious practices are being done in the name of children as they cannot decide the vaccines they need. Someone must give a credible answer to helpless parents’ question as to how many vaccines are adequate for a child.”

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