The demand by several states, including Kerala and Delhi, to vaccinate class 12 students before conducting board exams is a pertinent point but seems to be impractical at present, several health and education experts have said. During a high-level meeting called by Ministry of Education to decide the fate of pending class 12 board exams, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had demanded that students be vaccinated before conducting class 12 board exams.
Noting that around 95 per cent class 12 students are above the age of 17.5 years, Sisodia had suggested that the Centre should consult experts on whether Covishield and Covaxin jabs can be given to them.
He had also recommended consulting Pfizer for getting vaccines for children since their trials for children have already concluded.
Assam, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Meghalaya have also urged the central government to vaccinate teachers and students on priority to ensure their safety during their time at the test centre.
A medical expert from a leading private healthcare facility, requesting anonymity, said, "Unless you have a vaccine that is licensed for that age group, you cannot administer it. The trials for Covaxin have begun and we don't know about Covishield's trials for the 2 -18 years age group. Only Pfizer is the one available for aged above 12".
"The firm is supplying vaccines to countries and it is not yet approved here and it should agree to provide vaccines to India. Even if the Indian vaccines trials are successful, there is already a shortage of them for the existing age groups eligible for vaccination. Practically, it is not feasible in the time lines," he said.
Dr Gurpreet Sandhu, President, Council for Healthcare and Pharma, said "as we slowly move towards normalcy and with the active vaccination drive, resumption of normal activities have become a possibility, it would become important to inoculate our younger population".
"Although it has been observed all around the world that infections in children are nearly always mild or asymptomatic as opposed to what happens in the adult population. There are very less evidence of potential for transmission in young children and therefore vaccinating can have an impact on overall transmission," said Sandhu.
Dr Gauri Agarwal, Founder- Genestrings Diagnostic Center and Seeds of Innocence said vaccinating students ahead of exams is a pertinent point which is the need of the hour.
"It will enhance protection against severe COVID-19 infection and related complications, including MIS-C, a rare but dangerous illness in children exposed to COVID-19.
"Whenever the vaccine (Pfizer) is authorised for use in India, we must also initiate a mass awareness drive to educate parents so they don't believe in misleading reports against vaccinating kids," Agarwal said.
According to Akshay Budhraja, Consultant, Department of Pulmonology, students are in the vulnerable group and need to be protected from Covid.
"Trials must be done on the Indian vaccines. Covaxin's trials are set to start. Even one shot of vaccine is very efficacious and it gives more than 80 per cent protection. The booster dose gives us protection for a long time," he said.
Education experts are also divided on the issue with some feeling it is an impractical plan to execute ahead of exams while others advocating it as the need of the hour.
"Ideally, it would be great if we could vaccinate all the students going for their board exams. However, if we look at the current scenario, it doesn't seem feasible. Since there aren't enough vaccines to go around, I don't see how all the students in the urban and rural areas will get vaccinated," Alka Kapur, Principal, Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh.
"Then there is the anti-vaccine lobby, comprising people who do not trust vaccines. Even though 45 plus people are being vaccinated on priority, not many have come forward. Amid such confusion and chaos, I don't think it will be possible to vaccinate all the students appearing for the board exams," she added.
Rajat Goel, Director, MRG School, Rohini, said in order to vaccinate the entire population of Class 12 students before making them appear for offline exams, we need at least 14-16 weeks from now and the vaccination infrastructure has to be accordingly ramped up on national level by next week for them.
"This needs quick action on the part of the government amid the time of health crisis our country is facing. Not only students but the invigilating staff must also be vaccinated fully for complete safety.
"Therefore, it is only viable to look out for an alternate mode for conducting exams rather than the pen and paper mode," he added.