On 16 January 2021, India embarked on an ambitious mission to end the pandemic by rolling out one of the largest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the world. Since then, the country has vaccinated more than 6.8 million healthcare and frontline workers against the coronavirus disease. Over the next few months, the country will begin vaccinating the other priority beneficiaries covered under the first phase of the vaccination programme.
Interestingly, India also runs one of the biggest vaccination programmes for newborn babies, children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers, in the world. However, these groups have not been included in the list of priority beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccination. Let us understand why children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers have been excluded from the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
COVID-19 vaccines for children
As of now, the Government of India has advised against vaccinating people below 18 years of age. There are probably two reasons for this decision:
- Low risk of infection and severe illness
- Lack of trial data regarding vaccine safety in children.
According to available scientific evidence, children can get infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. However, they are typically less likely to become as sick as adults. In fact, some of the infected children may not show symptoms at all.
As of now, only two COVID-19 vaccines - Covishield and COVAXIN - have been approved for use in India. So far, none of these vaccines have included children as part of their clinical trials. However, the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech are planning to test their vaccines on children soon. The vaccination guidelines will likely be modified once clinical trials establish the safety of vaccines in children.
COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant and lactating women
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women with COVID-19 are at an elevated risk of severe illness compared with non-pregnant women. They are also at an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, when compared with pregnant women without COVID-19. However, pregnant women and lactating mothers have not been a part of any COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial so far.
As a result, there is limited data about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in them. Therefore, the Government of India has decided against vaccinating them against COVID-19 for the time being. The vaccination guidelines will most likely change once there is conclusive evidence that there is no risk to mother or child with the COVID-19 vaccine.
India is expeditiously vaccinating the priority beneficiaries such as health and frontline workers against COVID-19. Soon, the country will begin vaccinating other priority beneficiaries. The country has, however, decided against vaccinating children, pregnant women, and lactating mothers for the time being. This is because these groups have not been part of the clinical trials of the vaccines approved for use in India. Once there is sufficient scientific data ascertaining the safety of vaccines for them, the vaccine guidelines will be modified accordingly.
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