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Scientific advice, global trends and international journals — the Narendra Modi government is exercising extraordinary caution before it finally kickstarts the Covid-19 vaccination drive for children in India.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has told senior officials in the Health Ministry that there should be no rush in clearing the vaccines or starting the drive, top sources told News18.com. The top panel of experts — the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) — has also been asked to take a holistic view before submitting the final plan to start the drive, the sources said.
Mandaviya has also asked the officials to take ‘baby steps’ and keep an eye on international trends, the sources said, adding that the Health Minister has asked officers to study reasons behind the slow pace of rollout of vaccines for children in developed nations.
"The developed nations haven't come forward to vaccinate children. Vaccinating children is a very critical decision and we must take all scientific and technical opinions before making a move," a top official said, elaborating on Mandaviya's concerns.
The Health Minister is believed to have said that he won't allow any "politics or pressure" in the matter of vaccinating children.
Another official, who is part of the NTAGI, the apex body which drafts the immunisation plan, echoed similar observations. "The message from the top is that there is no rush. We need to make a scientifically strong decision as it is about children, future of our country," they said.
"We have been reading international studies and journals to understand the risks and benefits of vaccinating children. Apart from studies, the panel is reading the international trends on how other countries, especially developed nations, are making moves in terms of jabbing kids against Covid-19," they said.
The panel is creating a master list of comorbidities based on which the drive will start for children suffering from these diseases on priority basis, after which healthy children can be inoculated.
Following the diktat from the top, it is not just NTAGI that has been adopting caution, but India's apex drugs regulator is also yet to approve Bharat Biotech's coronavirus vaccine Covaxin for emergency use in children despite a recommendation from the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) earlier in the week.
A source in Drugs Controller General of India's office said that "the matter is still under discussion and additional scientific advice is being sought.”
“The approval is crucial and it’s a huge responsibility," they said.
The vaccine was approved by the SEC on Tuesday. For other vaccines for adults, the approval of the DGCI has come in a day.