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COVID-19 vaccines for 5-11-year-olds may be limited to private hospitals 

Government approval for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to children in the 5-11-year age group is possible as early as next week, according to health ministry officials familiar with the situation. 

April 27, 2022 / 11:46 AM IST

On April 25, the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) approved the administration of two COVID-19 vaccines to children aged below 12 years.

Covaxin by Bharat Biotech has been granted emergency use authorization for children in the 6-11-year age group and Corbevax by Biological E for use in the 5-11-year cohort.

A decision on introducing these vaccines under the National COVID-19 vaccination programme now rests on the Union health ministry.

The ministry may seek inputs from expert panels such as the COVID-19 working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration.

Government officials said it is likely the vaccination drive against COVID-19 will be expanded very soon, but the vaccines may be made available for under-12 children only in private sector facilities.

“We are already discussing the matter internally and it is possible that a green signal will be given as early as next week for administration of the vaccines to young kids, but they may be available only at private hospitals where people have to pay from their own pockets for the vaccines,” said a senior health ministry official with knowledge of the situation.

As of now, Corbevax has been made available for the 12-14-year age group under the national COVID-19 vaccination programme and Covaxin is permitted to be administered to the 15-17-year age group.

For these cohorts, the Union government is also procuring the vaccines and providing them to the states for administration at government hospitals.

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COVID-19 vaccine precaution or booster doses which are permitted for the 18-59-year age group beginning April 10 are only available in private hospitals.

Fund shortage for COVID-19 vaccines? 

According to government officials, for the year 2022-23, only Rs 5,000 crore has been allocated for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, down sharply from Rs 39,000 crore in the previous financial year.

“The idea is now to provide vaccines to only those through the government immunization programme who are categorized as the most vulnerable to severe COVID-19,” said one of the officials cited above, pointing out that the government was still procuring precautionary doses for healthcare and frontline workers and those above 60 years of age.

The government procurement price for Covaxin is Rs 215 per dose while each dose of Rs Corbevax costs it Rs 145 (excluding taxes) as of now.

In private hospitals, Covaxin is now available for around Rs 400 per dose (after the recent cut in price from Rs 1,200 per jab), but the price of every dose of Corbevax is a steep Rs 990.

Low risk to kids 

The apex drug regulator has decided to five emergency use authorization for vaccinating 5-12-year-olds based on data evaluation and opening of schools, but this cohort is still not categorized as one susceptible to serious COVID-19, the officials cited above said.

“So the idea is to make the vaccines available to those who are willing to pay for the shots at private vaccination centres,” the person cited above added.

Specialists such as senior virologist Dr J P Muliyil, who is also a member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), said there is no need to vaccinate children given they have near-zero possibility of getting very sick with Omicron, the now dominant strain of the SARS CoV 2 virus.

“I do not understand why vaccines are being granted emergency use authorization for their use in kids because there is no emergency situation at all,” Dr. Muliyil said.

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He also added that the NTAGI had discussed data related to clinical trials of vaccines in children but could not determine their utility for children.

“Even if the vaccines are to be recommended for small kids with serious underlying diseases, there has to be data to demonstrate that vaccines are effective in such cases but so far there is no such data available from the scientific studies carried out by vaccine manufacturers,” Muliyil said.

Sumi Sukanya Dutta
Sumi Sukanya Dutta