More, and for more: On COVID-19 vaccines for children and boosters for the aged

Boosters for the aged and vaccines for children can help India combat the virus

However, the Prime Minister’s impromptu announcement is also puzzling. For more than a month, a National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in India committee has reportedly been weighing the pros and cons of approving vaccines for children and senior citizens. Just a day before Mr. Modi’s announcement, the ICMR head had said that this matter was still under debate in India’s medico-bureaucratic hierarchy. These included key questions on the extent to which antibody levels waxed or waned following immunisation, whether booster doses of the same vaccine would be effective, and whether Covaxin and Covishield were differentially protective against Omicron. On the latter point, it was said that the ICMR awaited data as the Omicron variant had not yet been artificially grown in its labs. These questions have public health consequences. While 90% of adults have got one dose and over 70% Indians have been exposed to the virus in the past 20 months, there are 40% adults who have not got a second shot. The demand for first shots is nosediving and with private hospitals claiming excess stocks, it is very likely that the economic elite of India and their adolescents will mop up available stocks. Also unusual is that the technical clearance for vaccines is for those 12 and above, but Mr. Modi announced these will be for those above 15 years. It is not clear if there is evidence that this group of sub-adults is more vulnerable. India’s health administration should be transparent with the data at hand and not let itself be in thrall of political calculations.

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