New Delhi, Dec 14: Serum Institute of India (SII) plans to launch a COVID-19 vaccine for children in the next six months, the company's CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Tuesday.
Participating in an industry conference, Poonawalla said the vaccine 'Covovax' is under trial and would offer protection to children all the way down to three years.
Currently, Covishield and other COVID -19 vaccines are approved for people above the age of 18 years.
"We have not seen a lot of severe disease in children. Fortunately, the panic is not there for children. However, we will be launching a vaccine in six months for children, hopefully down to the age of three," Poonawalla said.
Already, there are two companies in India who are licensed and their vaccines will be available soon, he added.
"I think, yes you should take and get your children vaccinated there is no harm, these vaccines have been proven to be safe and efficacious and all of that. If you feel you want to get your children vaccinated by all means, wait for government announcements on that, and you go ahead with that. Our vaccine Covovax will be launched for children in six months," Poonawalla stated.
He also said that Covovax is under trial and has shown excellent data all the way down to the age group of three years.
Poonawalla noted that there was enough data to show that the vaccines will work and protect the children against the infectious disease.
He pointed out that so far, nothing can be said about the Omicron variant as to how it would impact the children.
"I do not know what will happen with Omicron, but so far the children have not been affected very badly with this (COVID-19) virus. I think their body, cells and their lungs recover better," he stated.
On a query about the Omicron variant, Poonawalla said there may be a rise in cases but how severe it would be in terms of disruptions and hospitalisations, nobody is in a position to predict as of now.
"India is in a better position with 8,000-10,000 new cases daily of which the majority would be the Delta variants. The point here is that I do not want to make predictions just yet because predictions should not be made till the time we have enough data.
But what we know for certain is that if you boost with three doses, you are definitely enhancing protection in your system, at least for five to six months," he stated.
It will help in reducing hospitalisation if at all there are going to be like what happened with the Delta variant, Poonawalla noted.
He said the clarity on Omicron would be coming in a month or so, and it would be known how effective the current vaccines are against the new virus.
"One thing is certain that Omicron is definitely more infectious and will spread very quickly across the globe. But how severe it is going to be and how many hospitalisations it is going to cause is something that we are going to wait and watch. The initial reports show that it is quite mild. However, we should not take it lightly," Poonawalla said.
He further said: "We will also get a lot of clarity on how effective are the existing licensed vaccines on Omicron. But one thing is certain that boosting is a proven strategy, which will definitely get your antibodies up and give you some protection, it is never going to be zero. So, I think the policy makers have to decide the risk-reward of doing that. There really is no downside to doing it. So, we are waiting on the government decision on how they see this".
Poonawalla noted that preventive steps like booster dose can be thought of in the current situation when there is a lack of clarity about the new variant.
He said that the government, on its part, has made adequate provisions for any eventuality.
"The world is now better prepared for the third, fourth waves because we have learned what to do and what not to do. So, we are in a far better position today, and I do not think they should be panicking with Omicron and other variants coming about where today already, you are going to see the sentiment change a little bit, but I do not think we should panic just yet. We should wait and watch how things unfold," he noted.
Poonawalla stressed that it was important to vaccinate the majority of the population to stop more waves in the future.
He also pitched for simpler policies so that new projects and factories can be put up at a faster pace.
"I think there is still a lot of work to be done there. If you look back, the government and the industry worked so well in the last 15 months to get all these vaccines licensed, reviewed. I mean, there were no shortcuts taken... Traditionally, it was taking us five years to license a vaccine," he stated.
Poonawalla said that the government needs to have a re-look at policies like price control measures, to let Indian firms compete globally.
He also stressed the need for the countries to come together to fight the pandemic.
Poonawalla said that it was important to identify and isolate the new variants and check as soon as possible how effective the current drugs and vaccines were against them.
"Secondly, global harmonisation of regulatory procedures for new vaccines for vaccine certificates I think all the countries need to come together," he said.
He further said: "So, all these things, including one set of rules for clinical trials and manufacturing of vaccines should be made so that in a pandemic...you do not have a situation where the US regulator or the European regulator, or a regulator in some other country has different a different set of questions, preventing the vaccines from being registered this is exactly what causes vaccine inequality and delays ".