India on Tuesday got a second COVID-19 vaccine for children as a Subject Expert Committee gave a recommendation to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). As per officials, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin can now be used to inoculate children between the ages of 2-18. There is however no clear indication yet of when exactly children can be registered for a jab.
Recent reports indicate that the safety and immunogenicity of Covaxin are almost the same in children, as adults above 18 years of age. As per an India Today report however, the gap between the first and second dose might be a mere 20 days for children.
Unlike the previously approved Zydus COVID-19 vaccine (for all individuals above the age of 12), Covaxin is already being used to inoculate adults in India. As such, it is possible to begin a rollout for children at any time. No such update has however been announced thus far. Neither is it known whether children will have to register via the CoWIN app or whether walk-in appointments will be permitted.
On January 16 this year, India had begun one of the world's biggest vaccination drives, with healthcare workers and frontline workers getting inoculated in the first phase. Then followed the second phase from March 1, for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions. The country launched vaccination for all people aged more than 45 years from April 1. Finally, the government expanded its vaccination drive by allowing everyone above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1.
Thus far children remain excluded from the eligibility list. Earlier at the end of July, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was quoted as saying that the government was likely to start vaccinating children from the next month (August) during a BJP Parliamentary Party. But with ZyCoV-D getting the DCGI nod in mid August, there is presently no provision in India for children to get vaccinated.
An August report published by the Times of India quoted official sources to suggest that even as a greater number of vaccines become available for children, the government was likely to start the inoculation process next year. The report suggests that while the government will prioritise children with co-morbidities, COVID-19 vaccination for minors would only start once all adults were inoculated and an adequate supply can be ensured. As such, the vaccination drive for children may start in March 2022.
In an interview with India Today TV, Dr NK Arora, the head of the Centre's COVID-19 vaccine advisory panel had said that vaccines for healthy children would be available in the "first quarter of 2022". Recent developments such as the reopening of schools and the exemption of children from some COVID-19 restrictions (such as entry into malls) appears to reinforce this plan of action.
As of October 12 afternoon, India has administered a total of 96.13 crore doses to adults. Of these, more than 27.26 crore individuals have received both doses and are considered fully vaccinated.
Tangentially, it must also be noted that Covaxin is yet to get approval from the World Health Organisation. According to an update shared by the international body, an independent group of experts are scheduled to meet this week to carry out the risk/benefit assessment and come to a final decision on whether to grant Emergency Use Listing to Covaxin.
"Covaxin manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, has been submitting data to WHO on a rolling basis and submitted additional info at WHO’s request on 27 September. WHO experts are currently reviewing this info and if it addresses all questions raised, WHO assessment will be finalized next week," the WHO had tweeted on October 5.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)