Updated: November 24, 2021 10:22:22 pm
Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope Wednesday made a strong pitch for vaccinating children between 12-18 years of age on priority, and reopening schools for Class 1 to 4 by adhering to Covid-appropriate behaviour. Tope also urged the Centre to allow a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine for health and frontline workers.
“We had a meeting with the state paediatrics Covid task force yesterday and they have recommended that schools for students from Class 1-4 can be reopened by adopting social distancing and other guidelines. The guidelines have been sent to us and will come up for discussion at the state cabinet meeting on Thursday,” Tope said.
Maharashtra’s public health department has also supported the guidelines. “The Centre should give its go-ahead to vaccinate children. We are ready and keen to do so,” Tope stressed.
An inactivated-virus-based vaccine Covaxin and DNA-based vaccine ZyCoV-D have been tested for children in the country. While Covaxin has been tested in children aged 2-18 years, ZyCoV-D has been tested in children aged 12-18 years. ZyCoV-D has received emergency use authorisation.
“I have met central government officials and placed these demands. They have informed me that they are studying the issue. This is the Centre’s mandate and we are hoping that they will take a decision soon,” Tope said.
On a booster dose, Tope said it had been a year since the health and frontline workers were vaccinated, and with studies showing waning effectiveness of the vaccine after a considerable time, this group should be administered the booster dose.
When contacted, Dr Suhas Prabhu, chairperson of the state paediatrics Covid task force, told The Indian Express that recommendations on reopening schools for Class 1-4 have been submitted to the health and education departments.
“These are children in the 5-12 age group, who for the last one-and-a-half years have been losing out on education and social skills. We are seeing increasing screen and mobile addiction,” Dr Prabhu said. “So far, concentration has been on vaccinating adults. Also, there were issues like inadequate number of vaccines. However, now we are at a stage where we can give vaccines below 18 years,” he added.
Dr Prabhu, however, stressed that while vaccination should be expedited for children, it was not a prerequisite for re-opening schools.
Dr Sanjay Natu, president of Indian Association of Paediatrics, Pune chapter, said not going to school for the last 1.5 years has also had a negative impact on children’s physical and mental health. While vaccination should be prioritised among this age group, it should not be a reason for not sending them to school, Dr Natu added.
Till date, Maharashtra has reported over 66 lakh Covid infections and 1.40 lakh deaths. Of the 66.55 lakh infections, around 7.46 per cent (4.9 lakh) are in people between 11 and 20 years of age.
Tope during the media briefing also admitted that while cases were on the decline, there was a kind of ‘bindaas’ attitude among many, who are not observing Covid-appropriate behaviour. “Germany, Austria and USA are among countries that are showing a surge in infection due to the Delta variant. While studies show vaccine effectiveness against Delta variant, it is crucial to ensure Covid appropriate behaviour. Covid restrictions are in place and they should be followed, “Tope said.
He referred to increasing crowds at weddings, religious places and at political meetings and admitted that not many were following restrictions of social distancing. “There is a kind of `bindaas’ attitude among the public. We have seen the serious consequences of the second wave and hence have to be very careful,” Tope reiterated.
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