EVEN as the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to grant emergency use authorisation to Covaxin, the Covid vaccine manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, an expert panel of India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation has recommended its restricted use for children and adolescents. If Covaxin is approved for the purpose by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), the country will move a significant step closer towards starting the vaccination drive for tens of crores of kids in the age group of two to 18 years.
With schools, coaching centres and sports complexes reopening gradually, the need for inoculation of youngsters cannot be overemphasised. The devastating second wave had seen a surge in coronavirus infections among children. There are apprehensions that kids might also turn out to be a high-risk group during the third wave, as and when it strikes. A major challenge will be to build confidence among students and their parents and nip vaccine hesitancy in the bud. Transparency is of the essence. It’s imperative to make vaccine safety and efficacy data public. Indisputable evidence is a must to silence the doubters and naysayers. The WHO nod, which is expected later this month, could be a game-changer as India plans to take its vaccination programme to the next level. However, a setback at this stage will send the Indian authorities back to the drawing board.
Another challenge pertains to the manufacture and supply of Covaxin. Of the 96 crore-plus doses administered so far in India, Covaxin’s contribution has been barely 11 per cent. Bharat Biotech would have to considerably ramp up production to cater to the sizeable population in the youngest category. Striking a balance between the requirements of different age groups won’t be easy. The country has fully vaccinated only about 30 per cent of its adults till date. So, a lot of ground has to be covered to ensure that people most vulnerable to the worst outcomes get protection at the earliest. A calibrated, data-driven approach is the way forward.