At a time when governments and schools in India are hesitant to reopen schools, a health expert from US has suggested that vaccine or no vaccine, children can still go to schools with adequate safety protocols.
Dr Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine at University of California in San Francisco, said during a media interview that offline classes can be restarted without waiting for immunisation against COVID-19 because schools in India have “plenty of doors and windows”, which means they are well ventilated. Therefore, schools can reopen prior to vaccinations.
“Children have largely been spared the effects of COVID-19, also a vaccine for children is still being tested. On the other hand, prolonged school closure is affecting children severely. UNICEF has just brought out a report. Children are suffering from mental health problems, eating disorders, learning problems etc.,” Dr Gandhi, an infectious diseases expert, told ThePrint.
The infectious diseases expert, however, emphasised on the importance of vaccination and said that children should be inoculated as and when the vaccine is made available.
Dr Gandhi also expressed concern about the slow pace of vaccination all over the world. “Given that India has been exporting vaccines without Indian people having been taken care of first, was a true tragedy. I think it was sad that India did not vaccinate fast (enough),” she said, adding that part of the blame falls on pharmaceutical giants and the developed world, which are responsible for vaccine inequality.
Dr Gandhi said that US President Joe Biden did not bend in front of pharma companies and waived vaccine patents. However, the European Union did not cooperate with the US. “India actually did something very very proactive to avoid this situation and it is the world’s fault that they did not work hard enough to get vaccines to them when we could have anticipated what happened in 2021,” said Dr Gandhi.
The Union government recently told the Delhi High Court that clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines for children under 18 years of age are going on and are on the verge of completion. The high court was hearing a PIL filed by two women on behalf of their children, one of whom is eight-years old and another is 12-years old.
The Centre had told the court that Zydus Cadila’s DNA-based COVID vaccine ZyCoV-D is meant for the 12-18 age group and that it could be made available very soon. The vaccine is being examined by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). Dr VK Paul, Member-Health, Niti Aayog, did not sound very optimistic when he said that more data is required to clear the vaccine for use in children. “The scientific process has to be completed. We have to be lucky that it should be effective and safe,” he said recently.
Meanwhile, the same court ruled on Friday (July 17) that vaccinating children against coronavirus in a hurry, without proper research, may prove to be “disastrous”. The court was responding to a petition seeking research on vaccines for children in a time-bound manner.
Schools have been shut across the country since March last year and conducting online classes is the only option available. Educational institutions opened briefly late last year, but were closed again as cases started rising.
Currently, COVID vaccines are available in India only for 18+ age categories. However, vaccine trials on 12-18 age group are in progress. Bharat Biotech initiated a Covaxin trial in children while Zydus Cadila is in advanced stage of trials.