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A member of the government’s COVID-19 working group and one of the country’s top professors of virology, Gagandeep Kang, has said that at this point of time, India should not consider giving COVID-19 vaccinations to healthy children under 15. This view was also echoed by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, vice-chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s research cell.
Professor Kang told Karan Thapar in a 22-minute interview for The Wire that today, the COVID-19 picture facing India has altered very substantially compared to April-May and “we need as much complete information as possible before we decide [to vaccinate healthy children under 15].”
She further said, “If we had a raging pandemic, it would be a completely different situation.”
Her view was also echoed by Dr Jayadevan, who said it would be inadvisable to vaccinate young and healthy people without further data about the vaccine’s impact on the immune response of children.
Dr Jayadevan spoke to Karan Thapar in the second part of the interview.
Professor Kang expressed concerns about the unavailability of safety data for both the vaccines cleared for use by young adults or children in India — Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and the Zydus Cadila vaccine. She said: “We do not have enough data in terms of safety for either vaccine for children.” She said this is certainly the case for the Zydus Cadila vaccine, although she accepted there’s much greater safety data available for Covaxin. However, she added, even for Covaxin she would like to see more age-differential risk data before its given to healthy children under 15.
She also pointed out there are concerns about administering the present COVID-19 vaccines to young children because, as she put it, “first vaccines might influence the immune response of young children against infections for which there are multiple variants”. She, therefore, said: “For children who have a long life ahead of them, the first vaccine may not be the best. We may find that there may be a second version … that does better. We may find that combinations of different platforms may perform better in children.”
As she stressed several times in The Wire interview, there is “not sufficient information to justify vaccinating healthy children at this time”. She said we cannot go by decisions taken in the UK or elsewhere and gave several reasons why the conditions and background against which decisions were taken there do not apply pari-passu [on equal footing] to India.
She summed up her stand on vaccinating children in India, saying: “I am comfortable with young children not being vaccinated.”
However, both professor Kang and Jayadevan said children with comorbidities must be vaccinated. That was an exception both made. Jayadevan went one step further and also said children who live with people who are immuno-suppressed or have cancer or with elderly relatives who face a higher risk of COVID-19 should also be vaccinated. Professor Kang did not fully agree with the latter part.
The above is a paraphrased precis of two separate interviews with professor Gagandeep Kang (22 minutes) and Rajeev Jayadevan (nine minutes). Although recounted from memory this precis is not inaccurate. However, please see the two interviews for a fuller and better understanding of both of their viewpoints and arguments. There is a single common link for both the interviews.