The PM made the announcement in an ‘Address to the Nation’ at 9.45pm on Saturday, soon after the drug regulator granted emergency use authorisation to Bharat Biotech’s locally developed Covaxin for children above 12 years of age. Covaxin is the second vaccine, after Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D, to get the regulatory nod for restricted use among children in the 12-18 age bracket. The vaccination programme, however, will currently cover children above 15 only.
Modi also said approvals for a nasal vaccine and the world’s first DNA vaccine are on the anvil.
The PM began with Christmas wishes and then spoke of the emergence of the Omicron variant and its implications, urging people not to panic while observing Covid protocols such as wearing masks and hand sanitisation. He said the country has learnt from having delivered 141 crore doses and significant capacity addition by way of oxygen supplies has taken place. He said there are differing estimates and reports on Omicron, indicating that India’s policy response will be guided by its experience, infection prevalence and efficacy of vaccines in use in the country.
The decisions bring down curtains over speculation as to when booster doses will begin. The PM said these calls will be based — as has been the case since the vaccine programme was rolled out on January 16 — on scientific analysis and assessments derived from studies and the vaccine rollout.
People above 60 years with comorbidities will have the option to take the ‘precaution’ or booster dose on the advice of their doctors, the PM said, underlining that India has taken decisions after taking into account its local situation and data apart from global experiences. The decision on vaccines for children is expected to reassure students and parents, said the PM.
So far, the Centre has been cautious, pointing to the wide prevalence of antibodies in the sub-18 population despite being unvaccinated. But the higher transmissibility of Omicron has increased risk of disease even though so far children have been spared the pandemic’s worst effects.
“This has been done in the light of the amount of time that the frontline workers and health care workers spend in the service of Covid patients. In India, this has been called ‘precaution dose’ not booster dose. The decision of precaution dose will strengthen confidence of healthcare and frontline workers,” a government statement said.
Even as active discussions were going on around Omicron, scientists in India assessed local data from 11 months of vaccination in the country, while also closely watching the experiences worldwide, which varied from country to country, the PM said. The assessment included impact of vaccination among the elderly, those with co-morbidities as well as vaccine response in terms of the gap between doses. Researchers have also evaluated data of re-infection as well as breakthrough infections in India as well as globally.
The PM said the decision to introduce ‘precaution dose’ and immunisation of children will strengthen the fight against Covid-19 and aid normalisation of education in schools.
The PM said the announcements will mark the occasion of Christmas and the birthday of BJP stalwart and late former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He emphasised that as the virus is mutating, the country’s capability and confidence to face the challenge is also multiplying along with “our innovative spirit”.