Vaccinating children imperative to reduce transmission of virus: Medical experts

Medical experts here have supported the proposed rollout of vaccines for children in the age group of 15-18. They said that vaccinating children was imperative to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Notably, the Union health ministry on Tuesday issued guidelines for the vaccination of children to be held nationwide from January 3, 2022.

Dr BS Ajaikumar, the executive chairman of Healthcare Global Enterprises Ltd and a member of the state expert panel to tackle the anticipated third wave, said that vaccination of children was essential considering the threat posed by the Omicron variant. “This will reduce the worries of parents whose kids are going to schools and colleges. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has received approval for use among children. Vaccinating teenagers will reduce the transmission of the virus from them to older adults. Trials have also been conducted in the US with no side effects. The government should adopt strategies to make the registration process hassle-free,” he said.

Dr Jagdish Chinnappa, consultant paediatrics at Manipal Hospitals and another member of the expert panel, said that though few cases of Omicron have been reported in India, it was a matter of time before it rapidly spread across the country.

He further said, “Children have not been vaccinated till now. Many of them could have got infected with the previous strains of the virus. Past infections do not seem to adequately protect against reinfection. Therefore, there are high chances that a large number of children will be infected by the Omicron variant. Most of them will probably be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. A small percentage of children, especially those with comorbidities, will likely be hospitalised. The other issue is that with widespread infection, children can easily transfer the disease to the elders at home. It’s almost a year since most senior citizens have been vaccinated. Their immunity is likely to be waning and they would be highly susceptible to the new variant.”

“Senior citizens should not take Omicron lightly. The same precautions should be adopted as during the second wave, at least till we know about the severity of the new strain. We have been proven wrong in many of our assumptions and interventions in the past two waves. Coronavirus is an enigma that deserves respect and not a callous approach,” Dr Chinnappa added.

Dr Yogesh Kumar Gupta, the head of Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Fortis Hospitals, said that the data pertaining to the new variant is limited. “Analysis of initial reports suggests that the symptoms are milder. Thousands of mutations take place in a virus… The virus will try to sustain itself. So, as the pandemic progresses, the virus will tend to get weaker and will not cause much harm. But it may infect the individuals faster…” he said.

Dr Gupta added that vaccines bring down the chances of getting severely ill and hence reduce mortality.

There was an apprehension about the severity of the Omicron infection among children, Health Commissioner D Randeep said. “The concern was always about the severity of the cases since children encompass the highest number of unvaccinated population. Fortunately, the severity of illness is not more in children. The children who have tested positive for Omicron are being treated in hospitals and are recovering,” he added.

A senior official from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) health department said that the civic agency is collecting data on children eligible for vaccination from the education department and other government departments, and they will soon set up vaccination camps to inoculate the children.

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