Even as India continues to ramp up its drive to vaccinate all adult citizens against COVID-19, around 35 crore individuals will remain vulnerable to a potential third wave. This section of the population comprises children or Indians under the age of 18, who are still not eligible for the shot.
With over a quarter of India’s population being under the age of 15, it is imperative to vaccinate children, teenagers and toddlers if we are to achieve herd immunity.
Even as the second generation of COVID-19 vaccines is in advanced stages, vaccinating children remains a challenge. Chemically and biologically there is no difference between the vaccines being given to adults and teenagers in some countries. The difference lies in the dosage. The process of setting the right dosage for children, however, is taking longer than initially thought.
While trials are already underway for various vaccines to be administered to children, only Cuba has approved the vaccination of children through its indigenously developed vaccines. The island nation aims to inoculate all of its children before opening its schools that have been shut since 2020.
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Trials for vaccines have to first succeed in adults before they can be tested on children. Such a practice is not only common for reasons of safety; but it also to allow scientists to use immuno-bridging studies to study the effects of lowered doses in children without needing to rely on the same number of participants as those in the adult trials.
"Typically, every vaccine candidate, even for other conditions, would be evaluated first in adult patients and then in progressively younger ages," explained Dr Kari Simonsen, who is leading the trial of the Pfizer vaccine at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. "We can't make assumptions about the safety or tolerability of medicines in children being the same as for adults," she said.
Companies like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, among other vaccine manufacturers, are already in Phase II and Phase III parts of trials. These expedited trials are required so that children can be immunised as schools have started to reopen all over the globe.
As far as the timeline goes, most experts predict that vaccines for children will only be available by the end of 2021. Dr Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner and current board member of Pfizer, said that the company hopes to have its vaccines for children between the ages of 5-11 by October.
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“I’ve got to be honest, I don’t see the approval for kids 5 to 11 coming much before the end of 2021,” said Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr N.K. Arora, head of the government's vaccine advisory group, had said earlier that the Covaxin shot for children is likely to be ready by the year end and the approval process will begin in September-October.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s National Institute of Virology (Pune) Director Priya Abraham had, however, stated that vaccines for children might be available in India as soon as September. Biological E’s Corbevax and Covaxin, Serum Insitute’s Novavax, Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D are among the potential candidates that may be approved for children in India, in the coming days.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)