The latest on the pandemic front is the vaccination for children. With Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) granting emergency use authorization to Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for children aged 12 to 18 years, there is a certain buzz and hope amongst many, parents of school going children particularly.
Bharat Biotech trials of Covaxin for use in children aged 2 to 18 years to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) were submitted earlier this month for verification. Consequently the nod. Meanwhile, other candidates eying children have also appeared on the scene and it appears that the day is not far when children would also get the shot and the resultant confidence that there could be life outside the shells of their homes to which they have mostly been confined over the past nearly two years.
While most of the activities of children seem to have resumed, from visiting relatives, to restaurants, play fields and markets, the schools remain out of their bounds.
The latest sero-prevalence study carried out by Government Medical College Srinagar reported a vast majority in 12-18 year age group in Kashmir having antibodies against SARS-CoV2 . Many experts, across board, believe the vaccination and the immune response together could help clear the way for reopening of schools. The GMC Srinagar results of the fourth round of the Sero-prevalence study of 10 districts in Kashmir division analyzed blood samples of under 18 year age group, unvaccinated completely and found that 78 percent of those between 12 – 18 years of age were seropositive – had an immune response to SARS-CoV2. This was the first of its kind survey in this age group here.
The principal invigilator of the study and Head of Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at GMC Srinagar, Prof S Salim Khan, believes that such a high sero-positive could be a green signal for re-opening of schools as the children may have natural immunity against the Virus. “The stakeholders need to converge and decide about the reopening of schools or otherwise,” the press statement from GMC Srinagar while releasing the data said. Regarding the apprehension that the Third Wave could hit the children worst, he said that the study results showed that children could be as protected or as vulnerable as adults, even without vaccines. He further said that the children could be more protected than adults as they do not have ACE2 (Angiotensin convertor enzyme) receptors – the receptors to which the virus binds. “We have seen and there is emerging data on how the absence or scarce number of ACE2 helps children evade severe disease due to this Virus,” he said. He expressed hope at vaccines helping the education sector further.
Head Department of Pediatrics at GMC Srinagar, Prof Muzaffar Jan, feels that vaccination in children “could take a while”. “Irrespective of the sero-prevalence study results, and vaccination, I strongly feel that schools must reopen given the toll the closure of schools is taking on children’s mental health and other health parameters,” he said. He said that over the period of the past year, children have developed multiple disorders due to being out of school and currently the pandemic was “at a low”. “With proper protocols and vaccination of adults at school, transport, as well as home, children can attend school,” he said. He however said that the coming few months were crucial and a decision beginning next year would be possible. “In Kashmir, schools anyways close down in October-November and hopefully, will reopen in March,” he said.
Prof Naveed Nazir Shah, Head Department of Pulmonology at GMC Srinagar said school reopening could be considered for the coming months as currently there was less chance of spread of infection due to low positivity. He said if available, vaccines for children and vaccinated adults could play a great role in making schooling possible for children again. “If the parents, grandparents, teachers, drivers, siblings, everyone protects themselves with vaccines, children could go and stay in schools,” he said. He however advocated “intensive vaccination and both doses” for everyone to avert any possible rise in cases. He said Government must consider phased reopening with the vaccinated and older children go first.
Education, as per many researches, has suffered tragically due to the pandemic. From removing disparities in access to education to reducing impact on mental health of children, a lot will depend on vaccinations in the coming months.