Over 50% eligible kids get jabs in two weeks

Updated on Jan 20, 2022 06:04 AM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the milestone as encouraging news and Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said it marked a big day for India’s fight against Covid-19.

Data analysed by HT showed that while the pace has been impressive, especially in the first four days after the vaccination was opened for this age group, there has been a significant slowdown recently.(PTI)
Data analysed by HT showed that while the pace has been impressive, especially in the first four days after the vaccination was opened for this age group, there has been a significant slowdown recently.(PTI)
By, Abhishek Jha, New Delhi

More than half of the estimated 74 million children in the 15-18 age group have now received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to government data on Wednesday, with officials now expressing optimism that by next month, “most eligible children, if not all” will be covered.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the milestone as encouraging news and Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said it marked a big day for India’s fight against Covid-19.

“Young and youthful India showing the way! This is encouraging news. Let us keep the momentum. It is important to vaccinate and observe all COVID-19 related protocols. Together, we will fight this pandemic,” Modi said in a tweet from his account, responding to an earlier tweet by Mandaviya.

Data analysed by HT showed that while the pace has been impressive, especially in the first four days after the vaccination was opened for this age group, there has been a significant slowdown recently.

This is not unusual, to be sure, since the launch of a new phase of vaccination is when most enthusiastic uptake typically happens. But it means that if the first half were covered in 16 days, it does not mean the next half will take the same amount of time.

Half covered, but pace slows
Half covered, but pace slows

At its peak, between January 3 and 6, on average 5.67% of the eligible population took doses every day – at that rate, the full cohort should have been covered in 13-14 days. But the rate has slowed, and in the last five days, this pace was 1.58% a day.

Encouragingly, however, at least half of the population will now be fully vaccinated by mid-February, in time for what is typically the examination season in the country. This is because these children right now are being administered Covaxin, the full course of which is given at a gap of 4-6 weeks.

“The response has been excellent in children; and by next month we would hopefully have covered most eligible children with first dose, or probably all,” said a senior official in the health ministry, asking not to be named.

Experts too said the response has been good.

“The response has been good from Day 1. It could also do with the fact that the numbers (of infection) suddenly started to rise again and it probably brought people out of their comfort zone that many were in. We should see further rise in vaccination numbers in coming weeks,” said Dr Anupam Sibal, senior paediatrician, and group medical director, Apollo Hospitals.

But, seeing the drop-off, the next half might need more convincing and the government will need to keep a watch for vaccine hesitancy. “When it comes to immunisation, last mile of the target is always the most difficult to achieve. People who come forward first are usually the vaccine eager ones, and once that rush settles down then comes those that could be hesitant and may not readily come forward,” said Dileep Mavalankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar.

The response has also not been uniform across the country, with some states reporting as high as 90.6% (Andhra Pradesh) coverage of their eligible adolescent population while others showing as low as 9% (Punjab). Punjab, however, is very distant outlier at the bottom. No other state for which population projections are available has vaccinated less than a quarter of the 15-18 age group.

Of the 23 states for which population estimates are available (north-eastern states other than Assam are clubbed together in these estimates), 16 have vaccinated at least half of their eligible teenagers, with 10 of them having covered 50%-60%.

Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra – where the 15-18 population is the highest and the third highest in the country – have also vaccinated around 45% of the age group, suggesting that a large teenage population is not necessarily a roadblock to coverage.

The decision to open up vaccination among children was precautionary, people familiar with the matter told HT. “The disease does not take severe form in most children but this is the most vulnerable group as it moves around much, which is why this group was chosen first,” said an official in the drugs controller’s office, on condition of anonymity.

A second key factor is that children in these age groups have social contact patterns similar to adults. “This is largely the age in which children socially interact. It has been seen that adolescents largely behave like adults,” Dr NK Arora, chair, Covid-19 working group of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations, said when the decision was announced.

Expanding vaccination coverage to this age cohort also reduces the risk of infections among more vulnerable family members, a second expert added.

“Children may show mild symptoms largely but they can bring infection home and elders and sick family members could be at risk. It was a good idea to open up vaccination for children,” said Dr JS Bhasin, director and head, department of paediatrics, BLK Hospital.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Abhishek Jha is a data journalist. He analyses public data for finding news, with a focus on the environment, Indian politics and economy, and Covid-19.

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