With the threat of Covid Omicron strain rising, India's top virologist T Jacob John, cautioned against leaving a large section of the population below 18 unvaccinated and advocated inoculating children. John said that Covaxin is safer than mRNA- or adenovector-based vaccines.
In an exclusive interview to BusinessLine , John, a retired professor and Head of the Departments of Clinical Virology and Microbiology at CMC Vellore, said children can be super spreaders of Omicron, which is now raging across the world.
“Not one child should die in the country. Our emphasis should be on vaccinating every child. It is important to protect the children. The policy to not vaccinate them goes against medical science,” he said.
“When you put on a public health hat, then you should protect everybody from the infection. So, the paediatric population should be immunised to slow/prevent the transmission,” he said. He said children will also need boosters in due course and for that they should be vaccinated earlier so that the booster can also be administered early.
John said vaccinating children is essential because schools also need to open after a prolonged period of isolation and online education. “Schools are reopening. Even if ten children are found to be Omicron positive, are you going to close the schools all over again? So, there will be disruptions in schools, there will be transmissions in the family and then community,” he said, underlining the importance of inoculating children.
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John simultaneously warned of a third wave around February because Omicron is a fast-spreading variant. “A third wave with Omicron will most definitely cause an infection wave, that is for sure because it escapes immunity and spreads faster. So, the wave of infection will definitely occur, maybe by February,” he said.
“We do not know what will be the severity of the symptoms because the Delta variant also caused the wave after four months. Every variant causes infancy severity and death in all age groups of children including Covid and long Covid in adolescents in small numbers. Multi-system inflammatory syndrome may be uncommon but there may be few deaths if children are left unvaccinated,” John added.
Covaxin, safest for children
Bharat Biotech's Covaxin has been found safe and effective for children. It has already been recommended by the Subject Expert Committee of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). According to John, Covaxin is safer than other mRNA- and adenovector-based vaccines like Covishield, which had shown a rare side-effect Myocarditis, that is, inflammation of the heart tissue in some children and blood clotting.
“I am an ardent advocate of children vaccination with vaccines which are safe and effective, for example Covaxin. Because if children are left unvaccinated, children will act as a virus reservoir and because we know that Omicron affects children readily, it is most unwise to exclude vaccination for children,” he said.