As the country battles the pandemic, several States are taking measures to ensure that students should be given prioritie for COVID-19 Vaccination. Republic TV Executive Editor Niranjan Narayanaswamy exclusively spoke to Dr Pallavi Saple, Dean J J Hospital & Paediatrician in Maharashtra, Dr Sameer Gupta, Metro Hospital & Heart Institute in Delhi, Dr Naman Bansal, Managing Director, Bansal Hospital in Delhi, Dr Ravi Kiran, Senior Consultant, Paediatrics & Neonatology, Sakra World Hospital in Bengaluru over the need to vaccinate children.
Dr Pallavi Saple said, "Generally, children have completely different biology and as we know from the age of 18 they are growing in various ways. So, we need to test them on the children but we need to test them on the factor of growth. With every vaccine as time passes the numbers increase we will get more and more data as we all are well aware that these vaccines come under Emergency Authorisation. So, we are aware that some hindrances might happen, that's why we are doing trials in smaller numbers and we can broadly divide children into three groups. So, whatever works for adults would not cause much problem in older children who are over 12 years but in the children less than 2 years — it's a completely different mechanism happening inside them. So, one definitely needs to test on them and has to weigh the cons and the benefits. If we get sufficient data then Yes, the vaccine that works on an adult can be given to children. Most of the vaccines given around the world are given to children and even in newborns so Yes it can be comfortably given to children once the numbers support us".
"I think everybody is really looking forward to seeing the children getting vaccinated as early as possible because the question is whether the third wave will affect children or the adults, what the outcome is going to be? When we define children it's someone who is less than 18 years of age or somebody less than 12 years of age. In the US, for 12 or above the CDC has approved the use of Pfizer vaccine and under 12 years the data is currently pending and trials are underway. In India, less than 18 years of age we do not have any data and no indication as of now. Trials are currently underway and the vaccines that are available in India Covielshiled and COVAXIN are currently being studied. So, let's just wait for some data," said Dr Sameer Gupta.
Dr Naman Bansal said, "Yes, it's very important to understand that why there is a need to vaccinate the children. So far, the COVID has affected lots of adults and only adults are vaccinated. So, this leaves children a large vulnerable group. Now, as the lockdown opens or the schools will reopen and children will be going to school and meeting a lot of people. So, this inherently leaves them very vulnerable. There is a big need for this to be fast-tracked. I don't know how they are going to go about it-- whether they should have an emergency approval but the need is definitely there. So, whatever can be done, as fast as it can be implemented before the third wave. If we get a large group of children vaccinated then that would leave them less vulnerable otherwise do not open schools at all. Schools have been shut down now for one and a half years, shut down for 6 more months, carry on with online classes. But till the time vaccines are not available for the children, I request the schools should not be open".
Dr Ravi Kiran said We are now trespassing the policy issues and I don't think that getting the vaccines from another country is in sync within the limits of our discussion today. So what we should focus on is how best we can vaccinate the kids with currently available vaccines as other aspects are also pointing out that there are three trials which are undergoing in the country, in the large multicentric study based-- Two of them are from Bharat Biotech which are COVAXIN trials and Zydus Cadila. So slowly the age group is slipping from 18 to 12 then 12 to 6 or 2 so it will go on and take its time to get through completely. I agree with the point that reopening of the schools should be a little slow and we should consciously heading towards that. But what is more important is that the third wave is the hypothesis, the third wave can be expected, the third wave doesn't mean that the kids are the only ones who can be affected. As kids are not vaccinated they are vulnerable but if we see the first ad second wave they have not been severely affected. Still, the most vulnerable population who have been dying are adults and elderly people. It's an equitable distribution for everybody. Importing vaccinations is not in our point of discussion. If it's available then why not and as far as vaccination is important for kids there is no second thought. It is very important for the kids but much for important for the adults and elderly people. We have been augmenting our health care system for the third wave but getting other resources that are a matter of policies.
"Definitely children should be vaccinated, we need herd immunity. Herd immunity can be achieved in two ways one by vaccination and the other by actually getting an infection. By getting actual infection the prize is at higher stake because there might be death and death due to vaccination or in India at least. We are here talking about the numbers so the only way that we could control the COVID is herd immunity and that we will get by vaccination. As the numbers of people getting vaccinated are increasing we are getting more and more comfortable with the safety profile of the vaccine. Yes, the children should be vaccinated not on priority but as a part of the population Yes. In fact, I would say they should not be prioritized cause the best numbers in the children are still very low as compared to young adults or the elderly", said Dr Pallavi Saple.
Dr Sameer Gupta explains — 'I don't think we have enough data to show whether they require booster shots. Now, there are two types of booster shots:
So we do not have enough data for it but there is another question coming up not only for the children but also for the adults-- What happens a year from now? Do we need to repeat vaccination to boost my immunity or my antibody level? So, I think there is a lot remaining to be answered, some we know and a lot we do not know. With time and research, we will get an answer to lots of these questions. But as of now, we do not know whether a child needs booster shots or not.'
"Currently, the only point of concern is whether any individual has hypersensitivity or allergy to any of the components which are present in the vaccine. So, if your child is generally not allergic then the child is safe to take the vaccine. Medicins are not a point of concern whether anyone is on any kind of medication. If your child has had COVID then after 3 months you can get them vaccinated. Apart from this, there is no point of concern. Once the vaccination starts across the country just wait for your child's turn and gets them vaccinated," said Dr Naman Bansal.
"An absolute answer would be Yes but we need to see some interim middle paas there. If there are some ways where we could quickly check whether positivities and negativities are low on a regular basis. In the earliest symptoms, the Ready card test can give reports quickly and screen the kids at the earliest. Social Distancing maintaining very well in the schools so these are the ways in which we have to conceptualize and think differently. For example, there was a suggestion to add odd and even roll numbers on particular days. So the numbers of the kids will be reduced at the school. Educate the parents to keep the children at home even if they show the slightest symptoms. So lots of social responsibilities need to be taken to prevent the spread. But if kids are too long away from the schools so the vaccination is definitely desirable before we open school. But if there is a high level of social responsibilities which is actually difficult to conceptualize the early testing, rapid and low cost testing these are some ways to break the no school thing at this stage, but the vaccination would be an ultimate solution provided it is available for everybody at ease", Dr Ravi Kiran said.
Dr Pallavi Saple said - 'Definitely, we should vaccinate students opting for higher studies as we are here talking about children of the older age group that is close to adults. As India has begun vaccination drive for 18+ there are many countries that have started it for 16+ vaccination drive. So it will very easy and comfortable to vaccinate them.'
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