COVID-19 vaccine for children likely next month, says Health Minister
India will likely start administering coronavirus vaccines to children in a matter of weeks, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said this morning, news agency ANI reported. "We would likely begin vaccinating children from next month," the newly-appointed Health Minister told Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs in a meeting at the Parliament, also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Experts say vaccinating children will be a significant step in achieving the target of "herd immunity" - a stage where the virus cannot infect enough number of people to sustain the outbreak in a community. It will also help in the process of reopening schools across the country, especially at a time when there are concerns over an impending surge in infections.
Indian firm Zydus Cadila, which tested its coronavirus vaccine on participants aged 12 and above, had applied for an emergency use authorization earlier this month. Officials say an approval of the jab is expected soon. Besides, Bharat Biotech, which produces the indigenous jab COVAXIN, is currently testing that vaccine on children. COVAXIN is already approved for adults in the country.
Further, Pfizer's vaccine is already approved for use in children in several foreign countries, implying when India approves it, that could be another option for children in the country. India has also approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently accepted for use in children by the European drugs watchdog. However, it remains unclear when India would be able to procure these vaccines.
Recently, AIIMS-Delhi Director Dr. Randeep Guleria had said India would have its first coronavirus vaccine for children by September. He said that Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN trials would be completed by that time. "Hopefully, by September, we should start vaccinating children, and that will be a big boost as far as breaking the chain of transmission is concerned," he had told NDTV.
There has been speculation that a third wave of COVID-19 will affect children harder. However, experts said there is no evidence available yet to prove that theory. However, a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that living with children aged 11-17 years can increase the risk of coronavirus infection by as much as 18-30%, flagging vulnerability of the older population.
India began its coronavirus vaccination program in January and has since administered over 44 crore doses. Even though more than 25% of Indians have received at least one vaccine shot, just about 7% have been fully inoculated yet. The country has four approved jabs - COVAXIN, Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield, Russia's Sputnik V, and Moderna. However, the supplies for the Russian vaccine remain limited.
India had faced a devastating coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, reporting lakhs of cases and thousands of deaths daily. The situation has since improved. In the past 24 hours, the country reported under 30,000 new COVID-19 cases - the lowest daily surge in 132 days. However, experts warn that a third wave of the pandemic could hit India as early as next month.