India’s vaccine think-tank has asked several public sector institutions, including the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), to submit data on their analysis of immunity amongst young children against the Covid-19 virus.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) will hold its crucial meeting on vaccine for children next week.
“We plan to take up the issue on children’s vaccination in next week’s meeting, and review data on the three children’s vaccines available now. However, before that we have asked institutions to submit their analysis of immunity among young children who were widely exposed in the Omicron-led third wave,” said a senior member of NTAGI.
During the third wave of infections in India, several children were exposed and infected, as that was also the population cohort without any vaccine coverage. It is estimated that children are already widely exposed to the virus through their adult caretakers. Therefore, before the national immunisation mission is expanded, NTAGI wants to understand the level of immunity — both at cellular level (memory cells) and also through antibodies — that exists among Indian children.
“Several institutions, including the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, have done studies to understand the level of infection and immunity among young children. We now seek to see those analyses,” the source said, adding that the next meeting would focus on how to further achieve a higher vaccination rate among the overall Indian population.
States, too, are doing sero-surveys independently to understand the impact of the third wave on children.
For example, Karnataka has begun field-work for the third round of Covid-19 sero-survey involving unvaccinated children between the age group 6-14 years in the first week of May. The state’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had recommended that a third round of the state-level sero-survey be commissioned in April.
Earlier sero-surveys had shown a high proportion of children already have antibodies. A study of over 10,000 citizens conducted by Pimpri Chinchward Municipal Corporation last year had shown that almost 70 per cent of children in the age group of 6-18 years had antibodies for Covid.
Similarly, a study by PGIMER, Chandigarh, had shown last September that 71 per cent samples from 2,700 children showed presence of antibodies.
The third wave of Covid-19 then occurred in January 2022 led by the Omicron variant, and experts pointed out that wide sections of the Indian population have already been exposed to the virus now.
In the last week of April, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) had granted emergency use approval for Corbevax (Biological E) and Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) for 5-12 year olds, while Zydus Lifescience’s ZyCoV-D was approved for use in 12 year olds and above.
Clinicians feel vaccines for younger children are necessary. Pramod Jog, pediatrician from Pune, former president of Indian Academy of Pediatrics, said: “Though Covid-19 in children is comparatively less severe, we found around 11 per cent of cases during the second wave in children younger than 10 years of age. There were cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome and long Covid cases in our state. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics expert group on vaccination strongly endorses the vaccines for those below 12 years also.”