ndia is yet to start vaccinating children below 18, who form 40 per cent of the country’s population
New Delhi: The Serum Institute of India (SII) is working towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot that will be effective against coronavirus variants including Omicron, Pune-based pharma giant CEO Adar Poonawalla said Tuesday. He also said SII has reached the trial phase of a coronavirus vaccine for children above three years and that it should be ready within the next six months.
Mr Poonawalla’s statement comes as about 50 cases of Omicron have already been detected in several states. India is yet to start vaccinating children below 18, who form 40 per cent of the country’s population.
Five Covid-19 vaccines have already been granted permission to conduct clinical trials in children and adolescents by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). These vaccines are Cadila Healthcare’s ZyCoV-D, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Serum Institute’s Covovax, Biological E’s RBD, and the Johnson & Johnson and Ad 26COV.2S vaccine.
As far as the country’s adult population is concerned, over 55 per cent people have received both Covid-19 vaccine doses and 87 per cent have got only first dose. The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) and the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) are currently deliberating and considering scientific evidence related to the administration of booster doses as well as vaccination of beneficiaries aged less than 18 years.
The Centre recently told the Delhi high court it is considering evidence on the need and justification for booster doses. The Subject Expert Committee (SEC), which is reviewing SII’s application for the booster dose, recently said booster doses can’t be recommended without clinical trials. SII had sought approval to administer the booster dose of its Covishield vaccine on the basis of an adequate stock of the jabs and the rising demand for booster shots.
The current vaccine production capacity of SII’s Covishield is around 250-275 million doses per month, while it is about 50-60 million doses per month for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Both companies are said to have achieved close to 90 per cent of their present production capacity.
Speaking at the CII Partnership Summit 2021, organised in association with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mr Poonawalla said: “On the back of enough data, it is safe to say that booster vaccines are a proven strategy to get antibodies up to a great extent.”
On vaccinations for children, Mr Poonawalla said: “We haven’t seen a lot of severe disease in children. Fortunately, panic is not there for children. However, we will be launching a vaccine in six months for children, hopefully down to the age of three.”
Mr Poonawalla noted two companies in India are licensed and their vaccines will be available soon. “I think yes, you should take and get your children vaccinated. There is no harm, these vaccines have been proven to be safe and efficacious and all of that. If you feel you want to get your children vaccinated, by all means wait for government announcements on that and you go ahead with that.”
“Our vaccine Covovax will be launched for children in six months,” Mr Poonawalla said, adding that Covovax was under trial and had shown excellent data all the way down to the age group of three years. Further, he said there was enough data to show that the vaccines will work and protect children against the infectious disease. He pointed out that so far nothing can be said about the Omicron variant, and how it would impact children. “I don’t know what will happen with Omicron, but so far children have not been affected very badly with this (Covid-19) virus. I think their body, cells and their lungs recover better.”