India allows local vaccine-maker to rope in kids for Covid-19 trials

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India has allowed a local biotechnology firm to enlist kids between seven and 11 years for its trial of U.S. drug-maker Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine as the nation looked beyond protecting its adults from coronavirus with 890 million jabs already given.

National health regulators said permission was handed out to Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume which is locally producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 shots.

"After detailed deliberation, the committee recommended for allowing enrolment of subjects of the seven to 11 years age group as per the protocol," a subject expert panel of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation said.

The announcement came as schools and colleges began reopening warily after 18 months in many of India’s 28 states leading to demand for paediatric vaccines rising in the country where online education is seen as a luxury.

The Pune-based SII is already conducting experiments with adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years with Novavax and has presented safety data for an initial 100 participants.

Novavax is yet to receive local approval but SII chief Adar Poonawalla believed national health regulators could clear the American jab for Indian kids below 18 years by January or February next year.

DNA shots for kids

India has so far given emergency use approval to an indigenously-developed vaccine for children aged 12 years or older.

The three-shot ZyCoV-D by India’s Zydus Cadila firm has been flagged as the world’s first DNA vaccine which will help the immune system to recognise a threat and develop antibodies.

India applauded it as a tribute to those who developed the product which previously worked in animals but not humans.

Zydus Cadila will produce 10 million doses a month from October which will make all Indian children eligible to join the country’s huge immunisation campaign that began on 16 January.

Bharat Biotech, another privately-run Indian pharmaceutical firm, began experimenting with kids in the age group of 2-18 in June but the test results are still awaited, media reports said.

Colossal disaster’

Randeep Guleria who heads India’s largest public hospital in Delhi, estimated it could take up to nine months to vaccinate all children in India which faces pressure to call off the world’s longest school lockdown.

A survey by economists and researchers has said the shutdown had a “catastrophic” impact on children leading to a “colossal disaster.”

Only eight percent of school children in rural India could access online education and 37 percent stopped studying altogether, said the report titled ‘Emergency Report on School Education’.

The survey conducted in 15 states and released recently said most parents supported reopening of schools but added repair of classrooms and training of teachers were still work-in-progress in parts of the country.

“It will take years of patient work to repair this damage. Reopening schools is just the first step, still being debated.”

Signalling the ill-preparedness, 60 students of a school in the southern Indian city of Bangalore tested positive for Covid-19 this week, forcing authorities to close down the facility until October 20.

Daily new cases in India dipped to around 20,000 in September from a peak of over 400,000 infections a day during a savage surge of the virus in May.

India has so far reported 33.7 million coronavirus infections and 4,48,339 Covid-related fatalities.

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