Experts question PM’s decision on children’s jab

Experts question PM’s decision on children’s jab, booster dose

Experts called the move 'unscientific' and said that data from countries that vaccinated the age group must have been studied first

Representative picture. Credit: AFP Photo

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Covid-19 shots for the adolescents aged 15-18 years, senior doctors and public health officials on Sunday wondered if the decision was taken due to “political considerations” as there is barely any scientific evidence favouring jabs for such an age group.

"The children belonging to 15-18 years are not a priority risk group. But many of them would be first-time voters in the 2024 general election and this (the vaccination) could be a way to tell them that the government cares for you,” a public health expert told DH on the condition of anonymity.

A senior epidemiologist at AIIMS, Delhi, who is the principal investigator of Covaxin trials for adults and children at the institute, termed the Centre's decision to vaccinate children against Covid "unscientific" and said it would not yield any additional benefit.

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Sanjay K Rai, who is also the President of the Indian Public Health Association, said that before implementing the decision, data from countries that began vaccinating children should be analysed to check if there is a definitive benefit to vaccinating children over adults as scientific evidence suggests otherwise.

"I am completely disappointed with his unscientific decision on children's vaccination. Those who work in epidemic control or epidemiologists didn’t make such a suggestion. It came from those who are not domain experts," Rai, a professor at the department of community medicine, told DH.

Experts also wondered whether the Union Health Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office were on the same page on Covid strategies as top officials had denied having a policy decision on the booster fewer than 30 hours before the Prime Minister’s televised address, in which he announced launching the booster campaign from the second week of January.

The Covid-19 booster shots, described by the Prime Minister described as “precautionary shots”, would initially be available for healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens with comorbidities on the basis of their doctor’s prescriptions.

On Friday afternoon, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava denied having arrived at a decision on boosters and lowering the age group for Covid vaccination to include children. A day later Modi made a public declaration on both.

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Sources said the PMO took the decision possibly due to pressure from doctors who were among the first recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine almost a year ago and would be having a waning level of antibody in their blood; and political feedback from the ground suggesting a major government action on Covid-19 amid the Omicron scare and ahead of the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh and four other states.

There is no clarity on whether the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) and National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) have approved the decisions announced by the Prime Minister.

Sources said NTAGI only cleared booster doses for immunocompromised patients like those suffering from cancer or those who underwent a transplant. This, however, was not announced by the PM.

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