EXCLUSIVE| ‘India Likely to Follow UK Vaccination Model for Adolescents’: ICMR Chief

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In an exclusive interview to Network18, Dr Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), indicated that vaccinations in the age group of 12-18 years are likely to be carried out on the UK inoculation model for adolescents. ​Zydus Cadila’s vaccine Zycov-D got emergency-use authorisation from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on August 20 and the framework of inoculation in adolescents will be finalised soon.

As India, after achieving the 75 crore vaccination mark on Monday, moves closer to the target of inoculating all adults by December 31, the ICMR chief told Network18 that at the moment a booster shot is not a theme for discussion in the central public health discourse. Vaccinating everyone with two doses remains the government’s top priority.

India is inching closer to the target of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of the year. But the gap between the first and second dose administered in the population is big. Why?

Firstly, It’s a cause of great celebration that India has completed 75 crore vaccination doses. 60 per cent of the adult population has received the first dose and 20 per cent population is fully immunised.

We will catch up on the second dose soon. All that depends on a) the availability of vaccines; b) hesitancy shouldn’t creep in.

Zydus has got EUA. When can we expect the vaccine to be administered in adolescents and how does the government plan to prioritise the beneficiaries in the age group of 12-18 years?

This question has been much under the government’s debate. A good example in front of us is what the United Kingdom has done: they have reduced it in age bracket from 18 years to 17 years for a few weeks and then 17 years to 16 years for a few weeks. We can take learnings from that. And make a decision.

Currently, we are trying to utilise the vaccine doses for the entire adult population, which is around 94 crores. We have vaccinated 75 crore people with one dose. Once we have this vaccination pace continuing for a few weeks or months, then we can consider the age group of 12-18 years.

Is India thinking of introducing a booster dose?

One thing at a time. Firstly we would like to vaccinate the entire adult population in the country. At the moment, a booster dose is not a central theme for discussion in the public health discourse. Getting full vaccination done is a priority and full vaccination is 2 doses.

What timeline is the government predicting for a third wave?

I don’t want a third wave. We are in the midst of the second wave, it’s still not over. We still have close to 30 districts where the test positivity rate is over 10%.

We may see some more districts join the list if they stop adopting the Covid-appropriate behaviour and have mass gatherings, especially in the upcoming festivals: the months of October, November and December are important.

If we celebrate the festivals on a low key this year, the next year we can celebrate with a bigger bash.

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