India to start vaccinating children and give Covid-19 booster shots

Locally developed Covaxin becomes second vaccine to receive approval for use in children 12 or older

A student dressed as Santa Claus distributes sweets at a school in Chennai, India. The vaccination of children comes as schools and colleges across the country reopen after nearly two years. Photo: EPA

Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

India will start giving Covid-19 vaccines to children aged 15 and older, and offer booster shots to at-risk adults as the Omicron coronavirus variant threatens to trigger a third wave of infections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision in a late-night address to the nation on Saturday.

The vaccination of children between 15 and 18 years will begin on January 3, while a third “precaution dose” will be available to healthcare and frontline workers, senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions from January 10.

“Coronavirus is not gone. The world is now talking about Omicron,” Mr Modi said.

“This decision is taken to not only fight against corona but also to give a sense of relief to those students and their parents who are going to schools and colleges."

The government on Sunday gave emergency use approval to the home-grown Covaxin vaccine for immunising 12 to 18-year-olds. It is the second shot to get the nod for use in children after ZyCoV-D, a locally developed vaccine requiring three doses that received approval in November.

The vaccination of children comes as schools and colleges across the country reopen after nearly two years.

Nearly 8 per cent of India's 1.3 billion population is between 15 and 18 years of age.

The government said in November that it was in no rush to administer jabs to children and that its top advisers were studying the scientific data.

India began inoculating frontline workers and senior citizens in January this year before extending the campaign to everyone over 18.

About 90 per cent of its 944 million adults have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and 61 per cent have been fully inoculated with two doses. Along with Covaxin, the vaccines being used are Covishield – a locally produced version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Russia's Sputnik V.

However, scientific studies worldwide show that currently available vaccines are not as effective at preventing infection by the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa in late November. The new variant has since spread globally and is blamed for surging infections in Europe and the US.

India reported its first Omicron infection on December 2, with the total number of confirmed cases rising to 456 on Sunday.

The Health Ministry said analysis of 183 Omicron infections showed that 87 were in fully vaccinated people and three involved patients who had received booster doses.

The head of the government’s Covid task force has said an Omicron outbreak could cause as many as 1.4 million infections a day – much higher than the peak of about 400,000 daily cases seen during the country's second wave in April and May.

Several Indian states have re-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the new variant but infections are spreading fast across the country.

India reported 6,967 Covid infections on Sunday and 162 deaths. Nearly 35 million people have been infected since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020, of whom nearly 480,000 died.

Updated: December 27th 2021, 11:19 AM