India to start vaccinating children with needless DNA-based shots

Underprivileged children wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus attend a class at the Sangharsh Vidya Kendra school at a slum area on the outskirts of Jammu, India. AP - Channi Anand

The Indian government is expected to announce guidelines for vaccinating children against the coronavirus. Priority would be given to children with comorbidities.

Following the Drugs Controller General of India's (DCGI) green light for Zydus Cadila’s DNA vaccine for emergency use in adults and children aged 12 years and above, the vaccines will be soon introduced into the national vaccination programme.

The needle-free, three-dose vaccine, ZyCoV-D, is potentially the first vaccine to be administered to the adolescent group in India, and is the world's first COVID-19 vaccine built on a DNA platform to be granted emergency use authorisation.

The Zydus vaccine uses the genetic code of certain viral proteins to similarly train the immune system. It is the first Covid vaccine of its kind to get authorization from a government health agency.

Officials of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVEC) is expected to receive scientific recommendations from the Covid-19 standing committee of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI).

Children with comorbidities

“The framing of guidelines, prioritising categories of recipients and timeline of the phased rollout of the Zydus Cadila’s vaccine are now being given its final touches. We will have good news soon,” NTAGI chief Dr N K Arora told RFI.

“We are particularly happy that our vaccine will contribute to this fight against Covid-19 and enable the country to vaccinate a larger population especially in the age group of 12-18 years,” Pankaj Patel, chairman of Cadila Healthcare Ltd. said in a press release.

The NTAGI is the nation’s top advisory body on immunization which has examined the scientific data on comorbidities among children and the size of this vulnerable group.

According to the country’s census figures, 41% of its 1.3 billion plus population account for adolescents less than 18 years of age. In the month of June, a serological survey found out that seroprevalence was 55.7 % in the age group below 18 years and 63.5 % in 18 years and above.

Given the evidence that has already come in all over the world, countries including France, Germany, and Canada, among others have also begun inoculating adolescents. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15 years old and the European Union also cleared the vaccine for children in May.

The Zydus vaccine doesn’t require a needle. Instead, the vaccine is delivered intradermally over a period of 56 days. It uses a needle free system called Tropis, which was developed by a Colorado-based company called Pharma Jet. Its technology uses a high velocity fluid jet that penetrates the skin to deliver the vaccine.

Zydus Cadila announced that it would start manufacturing 10 million doses by October,

Apart from Zydus Cadila’s DNA vaccine, India is also preparing other paediatric vaccines so that it can immunise the rest of the child population.

The Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) has received permission to conduct phase II and III clinical trials of Covovax, the Indian version of the US biotechnology firm Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine, in children between 7 and 11 years of age.

India awaits SOPs for vaccinating children

In addition, Bharat Biotech has completed the Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine, Covaxin for use in the age group of 2 to 18 years and has been granted emergency use approval. The made in India vaccine will be administered in two doses, with a gap of 20 days between the first and second dose.

The Hyderabad-based vaccine maker has submitted the trial data to the DCGI. The study was done to evaluate safety, reactogenicity, and immunogenicity on healthy volunteers above the age of 2 at six sites across the country.

“We will have two or three options for our child population and that is a good sign,” said Arora.

Currently, only people aged 18 years and above are eligible to receive jabs under the national immunisation drive.

As many as 952 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine has been administered in the country so far with about 70% of the country’s adult population now received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and over 255 million fully vaccinated.


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