The way ahead for vaccination
A new phase of India’s coronavirus vaccination began on Monday, with children in the 15 to 18 age group getting their first jabs amid a surge of Covid-19 cases in multiple cities. In 12 hours, over four million doses were delivered. The high uptake at the beginning of the new phase was expected since parents had been demanding the opening up of vaccination for children for a long time. A week from now, citizens above 60 years, with certain illnesses, and those working in the health care sector or frontline public-facing jobs, such as policemen and firefighters, will be eligible to take their third shots (“precaution doses”) if their primary vaccination was completed nine months ago.
Children have been the silent sufferers in this pandemic, forced mostly to stay at home for the last two years, adversely affecting their learning curve and social interactions. The elderly, health care and frontline workers remain the most at risk, a strong reason for them to get the third dose as soon as possible. As far as the demand and supply of vaccines go, this newspaper, using Census 2011 projections, reported that the three cohorts would together create an additional demand for 315 million shots in the coming weeks. On January 3, the government statement on surplus stocks said close to 200 million are available with states. There will be hundreds of millions more, including from the suppliers of the newly approved vaccines.
While the opening up of the vaccination drive for children is welcome, the government can relax it further by reducing the mandatory nine-month gap for the third dose. The country is capable of meeting the extra demand for vaccines. There is adequate scientific evidence that six months, not nine, should be enough for people to take boosters. Last month, India’s officials cited studies showing vaccine protections last over nine months. Still, these studies were based primarily on ancestral variants and did not account for Omicron’s vaccine-resistant nature. Even if some protections last for nine months, there is no harm in bolstering people’s immune defences when the country has adequate vaccine supplies. The Omicron wave is just building up and booster doses have shown to help even within a week of being administered. India must, therefore, take a quick decision to cover more people as quickly as possible.