Securing the young: On COVID-19 vaccines for children and booster shots

India must accelerate efforts to increase vaccine supply for boosters and for children

Updated - December 16, 2021 01:01 am IST

Published - December 16, 2021 12:02 am IST

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has said that it will be ready with vaccines for children in the next six months. This follows claims earlier this year that it will be ready with the vaccine, Covovax, for adults by October; but, so far, no approval has been forthcoming from the Drugs Controller General of India. Covovax is SII’s brand name for Novavax, the recombinant nanoparticle protein-based vaccine developed by the U.S.-based Novavax Inc., and this will be an important vaccine to watch out for because it will roll out from the SII stable, which as of today, has made at least 90% of the 1.3 billion vaccines that have found their way into the arms of Indians. While Covaxin by Bharat Biotech was hurriedly approved by Indian authorities, it has unfortunately not been able to scale up rapidly enough to make a substantial contribution to India’s vaccination programme. India has now inoculated 80% of its adults with at least one dose and given that many have already been exposed to the virus, this number, in itself, is a fairly creditable achievement even though it is short of the Government’s initial claim of fully inoculating all adults by the year-end.

However, Omicron has complicated matters. Said to be the most infectious of all variants, health experts in several countries are warning of a ‘tidal wave’ of infections over the year-end as well as in the first quarter of 2022. Because the variant contains several mutations that allow the virus to escape antibodies, the forecast is that several — in spite of being vaccinated — may likely experience breakthrough infections or re-infections. Seen this way, this also bodes harm for children as many have resumed schooling in person and the inevitable congregations make them targets for infections. India is yet to approve vaccines for children and is reportedly deliberating on trial data submitted by Bharat Biotech on tests done on children. The technical committee also has not authorised boosters and the argument ostensibly is that doses must be prioritised for adults who have not yet been inoculated. Several new vaccines, ZycoV-D, Gennova, Sputnik V, Corbevax were to have been available by now as per the Centre’s estimates in September and some of them are also testing versions in children but, as the experience with Covaxin shows, it is one thing to test and develop a vaccine and quite another to scale up quickly. The Government must accelerate efforts to coax supply.

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