Updated: October 14, 2021 7:45:36 am
With Bharat Biotech-developed Covaxin receiving a recommendation for approval for use among children over two years of age, India is now the only country to have a Covid-19 vaccine for every age group. No other vaccine has so far been approved for infants and young children. Pfizer and BioNTech had announced last month that their vaccine had elicited robust responses among children of 5 to 11 years of age in phase 2/3 trials, but that is yet to be approved. As of now, only three vaccines are available for the 12-18 age bracket, those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and another by Zydus which was cleared by India in August.
The formal clearance to Covaxin for younger children brings in another layer of protection against Covid-19. This is crucial at a time when schools and colleges are opening up, and there is a discernible rise in the number of infections amongst children, even those below 10 years of age. As reported by this newspaper, the proportion of children in the new infections has been much higher in July and August this year, compared to any time earlier in the pandemic. This is not surprising given the fact that a large proportion of the adult population could have developed some immunity, either because of a prior infection, or due to vaccination. Reassuringly, there is no perceptible rise in serious cases amongst children.
There are still about 24-25 crore people in India above the age of 18 who are yet to get a single dose. Among them are the elderly and the sick, and those in remote areas where access to vaccines is not easy. Among those who have received the first dose, less than 30 per cent are fully vaccinated. The exercise to vaccinate children must not slow down vaccinations in this group, which must continue to remain the priority. Bharat Biotech is yet to release the data from phase 2/3 trials on the basis of which it has received the recommendation for approval for use among children. While the company says it would soon publish the results in a journal, it would have been better if it had made the results public before the approval — it would help build confidence among the public. Covaxin’s application for emergency use authorisation from the World Health Organisation has been pending for a long time now. Proactive disclosure of relevant trial data can help in clearing such bottlenecks.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 14, 2021 under the title ‘For the kids’.
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