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FPJ Edit: Covaxin for children raises questions

07:45 AM Oct 14, 2021 | FPJ Editorial

Children in the 2-18 age group will soon be brought under India’s Covid vaccination drive. The Union government’s subject expert committee (SEC) has cleared Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, for this purpose. The final decision rests with the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCA). Once it clears the proposal, about 25 crore additional people will be eligible for vaccination. It will mark a turning point in the country’s battle against Covid-19.

The clearance the SEC has given to Covaxin assumes importance as most states are planning to open schools and colleges, sooner than later. Already some states like Haryana have opened schools from Classes I to XII but there is no insistence on attendance. One of the reasons for making attendance optional is the fear some parents have about their children contracting Covid-19 at school.

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Studies conducted the world over have shown that children have greater resistance to coronavirus than adults. The casualty rate among children is also not high. However, the loss of a child will not be measured by his/her parents in terms of national or world averages. This itself reveals the importance of bringing children under the vaccination umbrella. Credit must be given to the Central and state governments for the rapid progress the nation has achieved.

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Initially, there were many hiccups, necessitating the intervention of the Supreme Court. Once a formula for distribution of vaccines in the public and private sectors and the rates at which the doses were to be administered in the private hospitals was finalised, the implementation of the programme has been, relatively speaking, smooth.

Statistically speaking, nearly 73 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose of the various vaccines approved for use in India. Among them, 26 per cent are fully vaccinated, having received two doses. In a few days, the number of single shots given will touch the 100-crore mark, certainly a commendable achievement. It is in this context that the SEC’s decision to clear Covaxin for children needs to be seen.

Of course, decisions like prioritising age-groups within the overall 2-18 age-group depending, of course, on the availability of the vaccine are yet to be taken. Significantly enough, there is little resistance to the idea of getting vaccinated, unlike in a country like Brazil where the president was recently not allowed inside a football stadium because he was not vaccinated. His argument was that since he had suffered from Covid-19, his body had the necessary immunity.

All said and done, one major problem that has not been addressed is regarding the credibility of Covaxin with which a large number of people have been vaccinated in India. Those who intend to travel abroad prefer to have Covishield, instead of Covaxin, because more countries accept it. It is a surprise that Bharat Biotech has not yet been able to get the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) from the World Health Organisation (WHO). In ordinary circumstances, the vaccine manufacturer should have by now convinced the WHO about the credentials of Covaxin. Now the question is: If Covaxin for adults has not been authorised by the WHO, when will the vaccine receive authorisation for use among children?

Indians who had taken Covaxin face a lot of problems when they land in foreign countries. Britain does not accept the certificate of vaccination given by the Indian authorities even if they had taken Covishield, which was developed in collaboration with a British firm. Of course, in a tit-for-tat style, India has begun treating the British the same way Britain treats passengers from India. What is forgotten is that an overwhelming majority of the people who travel to India from Britain are people of Indian origin.

Questions will be raised on how many trials were conducted on children before the SEC cleared Covaxin as a first step for administering the vaccine to children. Less than a week ago, the WHO cleared RTS,S, a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline, for use in childhood vaccination in places with transmission of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of the five parasites that cause malaria and the most common in Africa. The vaccine was cleared after 23 lakh doses had been administered, clearing the air on safety. Covid-19 is an altogether different ball game, more so when there is fear of a third wave. Even so, it is incumbent on the Indian state to convince agencies like the WHO on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.

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