Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Whenever the Centre rolls out Covid-19 vaccination for children, adolescents with comorbidities will be the first to receive the jabs, officials told this newspaper. The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) has recommended that children aged 12-17 years with serious underlying conditions should be the first to get the vaccines, once the inoculation programme is open for children. However, the Union health ministry is yet to take a final call on the matter. 

“Just like the Covid-19 vaccination for adults was opened for those above 45 years with specified comorbidities, the expert group has suggested inoculation first for adolescents above 12 with serious ailments as the risk of serious disease and death is higher in them compared with normal kids,” a health ministry official said. 

In a press briefing on Tuesday, NEGVAC co-chairman V K Paul had echoed the same sentiments: “Prioritising children with comorbidities would be scientifically appropriate and valid,” he said in response to a query, adding that the decision on whether to prioritise certain children would be taken only after vaccines become available for children.

During a BJP parliamentary party meeting last month, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya had claimed vaccination for children would begin in August. As of now, no vaccine in India has regulatory approval for immunising children. Covaxin’s clinical trial for children is still underway to assess its safety and immunogenicity. And Zydus Cadila’s DNA-based vaccine, which had included kids between 12-17 years in its late-stage trials, is awaiting approval for restricted use authorisation. 

Meanwhile, experts say the risk of severe disease and mortality is far lower among children compared with adults. Therefore, their vaccination should be considered only when vaccines effective in preventing transmission are available. 

“None of the available Covid-19 vaccines is capable of preventing transmission and only offer protection from hospitalisation and severe disease and therefore in my view there should be no hurry to vaccinate children,” said Chandrakant Lahariya, health systems and vaccine specialist.He also opined that inoculation of children should be carried out only when the complete data of clinical trials of vaccines to be used in kids is available for public scrutiny.

“It has to be fully established that the risks associated with the vaccine outweigh the benefits before kids are offered the shots,” said Lahariya, pointing out that while a few countries such as the US have undertaken Covid-19 vaccination for 12-17 years, nowhere in the world are kids under 12 being inoculated due to lack of scientific data.

There have been some concerns that the third wave of the pandemic may primarily affect those under 18 as they will be the only age group left out of the Covid-19 vaccination coverage but experts, based on scientific evidence, have allayed these fears.Children with fewer ACE 2 receptor cells, which the virus uses to infect humans, are shown to be less susceptible to severe ailment. 

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