Guleria said that there are a few vaccine candidates available that have been deemed safe for children. These include Pfizer, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Zydus Cadilla's ZyCoV-D shots.

COVID-19 vaccines for children by September, says AIIMS chief Guleria; here's a status check

Representational image. AP

COVID-19 vaccines for children should be available in the country by September, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)  director Randeep Guleria has told news agency ANI.

"We should then start schools in a graded manner…(vaccines) will give more protection to kids and more confidence to the public that children are safe," he said.

Vaccination of children has been an intensely debated topic ever since the inoculation of the adult population began last December. Experts have weighed in on whether it would be safe to administer jabs to the children, and a host of other issues.

What are the vaccines available for children?

Globally, mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNetch and Moderna, and those by Sinovac and Sinopharm have been tested on young people above 12, according to an article in the Nature journal. Several countries, including the US, Israel and China, are now offering the vaccines to this age group, the report added. No vaccine has been approved for those below 12 years old.

In India, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Zydus Cadila's candidate are in the trial phase. The country is currently vaccinating its adult population.

Results of Covaxin trials are expected by September, Guleria told ANI. According to this report, the trials are being conducted by segregating participants into three groups: 12-18 years, 6-11 years, and 2-5 years (trials may begin next week).

Zydus Cadila has concluded its trial for the 12-18 years group, the report said. The Ahmedabad-based company has applied for emergency use authorisation of its plasmid DNA vaccine (the first-of-its-kind in the world) and has been asked to submit more data.

If vaccines for children are approved in India anytime soon, the 12-17 age group is expected to get the shots first. Jabs for those below this age group could take some more time to arrive, as suggested by the global experience.

Pfizer's vaccine already has US Food and Drug Administration's approval for use on children aged 12-17 years; it expects approval for children between 5 and 11 years by September. The company is also conducting trials on children between 6 months and 11 years.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, too, has started trials on children aged 12-17 years.

The debate rages

There have been many aspects to the debate over vaccinating children.

While there is a belief that children are not as severely impacted by COVID-19 as adults are, some of them still become very ill, according to the Nature article cited above. It also says "the spectre of long COVID — a constellation of sometimes debilitating symptoms that can linger for months after even a mild bout of COVID-19 — is enough for many paediatricians to urge vaccination as quickly as possible".

So far, vaccines have been found safe in adolescents.

There have also been debates on whether children should be given the shots at this point, even as millions in high-risk groups in less-developed countries await their jabs.

Some vaccine experts have also advocated the shots only for children with comorbidities or those living with vulnerable adult relatives or caregivers.

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