COVID-19 vaccine trial for children nears completion: Centre tells HC
The Centre told the Delhi High Court Friday that ongoing clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines for those below 18 years are nearing completion. The submissions were made during the hearing of a petition, filed by a minor, that sought directions for immediate vaccination of those in the 12-18 year age group on the ground that the third wave of COVID-19 could affect them more.
The Centre told a division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh that it will formulate a policy on COVID-19 vaccinations for children after getting approval from experts. Stating that the whole country is waiting for the vaccination of children, the bench granted more time to the Centre and listed the matter for further hearing on September 6.
The Delhi HC also declined the prayer of the petitioner to make the whole process time-bound. To this, the court said, "Everybody is in a hurry. Everybody is for the vaccine but a foolproof trial should be there." Stating that vaccinating children without trials would be a "disaster", the court added, "Once the trials are over, you quickly apply to children."
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told the court that Zydus Cadila has concluded its vaccine trial for children between the age group of 12-18 and is subject to statutory permissions. Earlier, the Centre had submitted that the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) permitted Bharat Biotech to conduct clinical trials on volunteers between two to 18 years of age, for its COVAXIN.
Highlighting that the second wave of COVID-19 affected children in India more than the first wave, the petition argued that the third wave will be "more virulent for children" and urged the government not to ignore it. It also alleged that the government is violating the National Policy on Children 2013 by ignoring the vaccination of children as well as their primary caretakers, parents.
Citing the examples of the US and Canada—where children are being vaccinated—the petition said that Indian authorities are ignoring international and national medical data "which is clear that vaccinating children and their caregivers... is an essential component for breaking the chain of COVID-19 virus transmission."
The Health Ministry has maintained that there is no evidence to suggest that the third wave will disproportionately affect children. "The serosurvey shows seropositivity was almost equal in all age groups. But the government is not leaving any stone unturned in terms of preparations," Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal had said. In a study, the WHO and AIIMS have also reiterated the same.
Separately, many health experts believe that the lack of vaccination among children will expose them to the virus. In a poll conducted by Reuters, nearly two-thirds of experts said children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave.