NEW DELHI: The Centre has told the Delhi High Court that it “may not be desirable” to create a separate priority group of people suffering from severe mental illness for the purpose of vaccinating them as from May 1 all individuals above 18 years of age are eligible for vaccination.
The Union Ministry of Health, in an affidavit filed in the high court, has said that from May 1 all individuals above 18 years of age are eligible for getting vaccinated, and therefore, “it will facilitate vaccination of a large number of population groups including persons suffering from mental illness”.
It also said that the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) in a meeting held on March 22 deliberated on the issue of creating a priority group and arrived at a consensus that “decision regarding prioritisation is based on scientific evidence, principles of equity, WHO guidelines and hence there was no need to change or alter or modify the criteria for the present”.
NEGVAC was set up in August last year to provide guidance on all aspects of COVID-19 vaccination including prioritisation of population groups, procurement and inventory management, vaccine selection, its delivery, its tracking, etc, the ministry has said in the affidavit.
“In view of the aforesaid facts and circumstances, it may not be desirable to create a separate priority group consisting of those suffering from severe mental illness and others below 45 years of age,” the ministry has said.
The affidavit was filed in response to a plea seeking to include people suffering from mental illness in the list of specified comorbidities that will help them get the COVID-19 vaccine on priority basis.
The petition by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal has also sought directions to the authorities to frame a policy to provide COVID-19 vaccination to homeless mentally ill persons.
The plea has challenged exclusion of mental illness from the list of specified comorbidities for determination of eligibility of citizens in the age group of 45 to 59 years.
Bansal has contended that apart from the fact that persons with severe mental illness are not covered under the list of specified comorbidities, the ministry has also capped the benefit of COVID- 19 vaccination only to those persons with disabilities having high support needs.
The petition has said that homeless persons with severe mental illness have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 infection due to the fact that they are unable to understand what is happening with them.
“It is because of the said reason that the Indian Psychiatric Society has written two times to the respondents for inclusion of mental illness in the list of specified comorbidities, but to no avail,” it has said.