The government will take a final decision on vaccinating children and adolescents against coronavirus on the basis of overall scientific rationale as well as the supply situation of vaccines available for those below 18 years old, COVID Task Force chief V K Paul said on Sunday.
Paul, who has been playing a key role in the government's efforts in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, also cautioned that even though infections are coming down and the second wave is subsiding, it will not be fair now to say that the worst is over since many
countries have seen more than two waves.
Currently, three vaccines -- Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V -- being administered in the country are only for those above 18 years of age. All of them are two-dose vaccines.
Zydus Cadila's indigenously developed needle-free COVID-19 vaccine ZyCoV-D is set to become the first vaccine that will be available in India for those in the age group of 12-18 years. It has received Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA).
"We do know that several countries have introduced vaccination for adolescents (people) and children. We will take a final decision based on the overall scientific rationale and the supply situation of the child licenced vaccines, going forward," Paul told PTI in an interview.
An expert panel of India's central drug authority has recommended granting EUA to Bharat Biotech's Covaxin for children and adolescents in the 2-18 years age group with certain conditions.
If approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), it will be the second vaccine after ZyCoV-D to get EUA for use among those below 18 years.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) is looking at how ZyCov-D should be positioned for most optimum use.
According to Paul, Covaxin is a part of the adult vaccination programme and how to provision the vaccine, if at all for children, has to be also examined in the totality of the requirements of the vaccination programme.
"A pragmatic decision (on vaccination of children and adolescents) can be taken (only) by balancing the supply and the potential eligibility," he said.
While noting it will not be possible now to give a particular timeline on when COVID vaccination will start for children, Paul said, "The preparation for incorporation of Zydus Cadila's vaccine into the vaccination programme is proceeding well, training is already being held. NTAGI advice for the best use of the vaccine is explored. So soon, this will be rolled out".
According to Paul, children are part and parcel of the chains of COVID transmission and are infected in large numbers. At the same time, COVID infections in children are very mild or asymptomatic, and that is one side of the story.
On the other side, he said that once there is enough vaccine available that can be used in children, "so why not protect them". Schools have reopened in many states, mainly for higher classes.
When asked whether the worst of the pandemic is over, Paul said, "It is reassuring that the number of COVID cases are now on the decline and the second wave is now subsiding but to say that the worst is over will not be fair because we have seen in other nations, there have been more than two waves".
Cautioning that the country is passing through a phase when there are festivals and potential gatherings, he said this is a critical phase as the virus can spread again.
"We have seen that even in other countries where vaccine coverage is good, the escalation in the pandemic can happen and has happened.
"Therefore, certainly we should not assume that this situation of the declining trend will continue and definitely we should not think that the worst is over, we have to be ever watchful," he emphasised.
While stressing that the vaccination programme has picked up huge speed, Paul also said that states which are for whatever reasons lagging behind must work hard and must push vaccination.
"Now, of course, there is no dearth, no inadequacy of vaccine supply. They are as of today 10 crore doses of vaccines with the state governments for the vaccination programme," he said.
As the supply situation is excellent, Paul said the states must ensure that they reach out to those who are left out in the vaccination programme.
"Given the present generous vaccine supply situation and the performance of the vaccine implementation programme, it is well within our grasp to accomplish universal vaccination of the adult population," he asserted.
On some reports that India simply will not have enough syringes for COVID vaccines if every single adult is to be fully vaccinated by the end of the year, Paul said, "there is no problem of syringe availability, we are in a good shape".
The country recorded 14,146 fresh COVID infections in a day while active cases declined to 1,95,846, the lowest in 220 days, according to the Union Health Ministry's data released on Sunday.