The government is likely to start vaccinating children against Covid-19 by next month, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said in a BJP Parliamentary Party meeting held on Tuesday, news agency ANI reported.

He also said that India is on course to become the largest vaccine producing country as more companies will get production licences.

Earlier this month, the Centre had told the Delhi High Court that Covid-19 vaccines may be soon available for children between 12 and 18 years of age and a policy on vaccinating them would be formulated after acquiring approval.

Zydus Cadila, which is developing DNA vaccines, has concluded its trials for the 12-18 age group and subject to statutory provisions, the vaccine may be available in the near future, the Centre had said.

Also, the Drug Controller General of India has permitted Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, to conduct clinical vaccine trials for the 2-18 age group, the government had told Delhi HC.

Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine has been tested and approved in the European Union for use in adolescents aged 12-15. However, the expectation is to make use of India’s indigenous capacity to make Covaxin, which is still being tested in children, a senior government official had told Indian Express.

This is because the expected supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, even if used completely for children, will fall far short of the requirement, the official said.

There is also uncertainty over how soon Pfizer’s vaccines may actually come to India, said the official, who has been closely involved in the country’s vaccination efforts.

Compared with this, Bharat Biotech is expected to be able to cater to larger orders, according to the official. The Hyderabad-headquartered vaccine maker has received permission to test its vaccine, Covaxin, in those between the ages of 2 and 18. If the tests are successful, this would allow the vaccine to cover a much wider population.

Going by the 80 per cent coverage strategy, the government would have to plan for enough vaccines to cover 104 million children to effectively protect this cohort. The exercise would, therefore, require at least 208 million doses of a two-dose vaccine. In the case of a three-dose vaccine, the requirement for vaccines would be much higher.

Earlier, AIIMS Chief Dr Randeep Guleria had said that making COVID-19 vaccine available for children will be a milestone achievement and pave the way for reopening of schools and resumption of outdoor activities for them. He had stressed that though children mostly have mild infections of COVID-19 and some even are asymptomatic, they can be carriers of the infection.

Underscoring that there has been a major loss in studies in the last one-and-half years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIIMS chief had said, “Schools have to be reopened and vaccination can play an important role in that. Vaccination is the way out from the pandemic”.

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