June 7, 2021 3:30:16 am
With the Covid positivity curve bending appreciably in most parts of the country, the second wave of the pandemic appears to be abating. This is a moment to take stock and initiate conversations about measures to stave off another outbreak. Reassuringly, some states have begun to reinforce their health infrastructure. It’s also time to find ways to prevent the virus’s surge on new fronts — vaccinating children, for instance, as a State Bank of India report suggested last week. Paediatric vaccination has, so far, been marginal to the discourse on Covid in India. The impact of the virus on children was negligible during the first wave. Though there are reports of children being infected in the current surge, the pathogen seems to have been less virulent towards them as compared to adults. Experts have cautioned against alarmist predictions of the third wave hitting children. Some have, however, begun to look at the need for anti-Covid shots for children. Such vaccination may be useful in disrupting the pace of the infection and it could be a vital step towards herd immunity. More importantly, any move to extend inoculation is in tune with the single most significant learning of the pandemic — policymakers must stay one step ahead of the virus. Shielding children could pre-empt the pathogen from striking new targets.
Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila have reportedly begun testing the Covid vaccine on children. The possible inclusion of this new age group will require tweaking the regulatory protocols so far. More levels of protection are necessary when children are involved in clinical trials. A child’s immune system might respond differently to a vaccine depending on her age. Vaccinated children will also need to be monitored closely to identify any ill-effects of the jabs. Such safety concerns might require the government to talk tough with some foreign players in the field — Pfizer, for example, which has taken a hard stance on India’s indemnity rules. Even though vaccine-related adverse effects have been rare, there can be no room for error when 26 crore young lives are involved.
But, first things first. Vaccine shortage must be addressed and inequities in the distribution of the shots must be ironed out urgently. Several states that announced free immunisation for adults have been burdened by the Centre’s latest strategy that asks them to procure vaccines for the 18-44-years group. The Centre must revert to the time-tested procedure of the Universal Immunisation Programme and procure the vaccines for all age groups. Moreover, in the case of paediatric vaccination, it should take on the onus of making the shots free. For more than a year now, the pandemic has deprived children of the joys of attending school in person, spending time with friends, and participating in sports; it has taken a toll on their emotional well-being. It’s up to the Centre to make sure that the vaccine reaches every child in the country.
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