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‘Want our lives back’: 15 to 18-yr-olds can’t wait for Covid vaccine, govts & schools plan camps

Some are eager to get inoculated immediately, some want to wait to see impact on others. But for most part, there's not as much hesitancy as adults had last year.

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New Delhi/Mumbai/Bengaluru: Sixteen-year-old Bhumika Kotak, a junior college student in Mumbai, can’t wait to take the first available Covid-19 vaccine shot when the vaccination drive opens up for her age group on 3 January. 

“The elders have been able to get their lives back. I want the same. I want my life to go back to normal. I want to visit malls, watch movies, and travel in local trains without worrying every time,” Kotak told ThePrint. 

There are many voices like Kotak’s, welcoming the Union government’s decision to allow children aged between 15 and 18 to get the Covid vaccine from 3 January 2022. 

While some are eager to get themselves inoculated at the first opportunity, some want to wait for a month or two to see how the vaccine impacts others their age. But, by and large, there are no apparent signs of the hesitancy that was seen when the vaccination drive first started for adults in January last year. 

State governments and civic bodies are awaiting detailed guidelines from the Centre on the process to be followed while vaccinating children from this age group. But meanwhile, they’ve started preparing the ground, taking stock of the sheer numbers they will have to cater to, and initiating talks with schools and colleges to help them in the process. 

Want to be the first in my age group to be vaccinated’

Rasika Mankapure, a 16-year-old student at Mumbai’s Somaiya College, said being vaccinated for Covid would make her feel safe and bring some relief to her parents when she goes to college every day. 

“I asked my parents if I could be the first one in my age group to be vaccinated. Everyone in my friends’ circle feels this way. A few parents have also called the management to ask if they can take the initiative and get all children eligible vaccinated for Covid,” Mankapure told ThePrint.

Mankapure, like Kotak, said she has no preference for which vaccine she wants to take — she’ll get the first one available. 

So far, Zydus Cadila’s vaccine, ZyCoV-D, has received emergency-use authorisation from the central drug controller for children above 12 years of age in August this year. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin received the same approval on 25 December, and that same night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India’s vaccination drive was being opened up to the 15-18 age group. 

Sachin Pillai, a Chennai resident who has a 16-year-old son, said he believes an emergency approval is valid and gives ample protection to children. 

“I would readily get my son vaccinated because I believe it provides a more secure environment for him in his classroom. When we got ourselves vaccinated in March this year, there wasn’t enough data on the efficacy of the vaccine, but it is life-saving in a way. What was applicable to me in March is applicable to him now. I would err on the side of caution and get him vaccinated,” Pillai said.

However, 15-year-old Unnati Srivastava, a 10th-standard student in Delhi, wants to wait till her board examinations conclude in March 2022. 

“We are very happy that vaccines are now available for students like us. It will be taking us towards a normal life where we can physically attend school,” she said.

“However, my mother is apprehensive regarding the side effects that come with the vaccine, which is why we’ve decided to get the jab only after the boards are over. By then, there will be enough data on which vaccine is safer for children.”


Also read: With ‘precaution doses’ approved in India, here’s what we know about Covid vaccine boosters


Information gap, but states have started preparations 

Dr Subhash Salunkhe, a member of the Covid National Task Force, told ThePrint that while the Centre has made the announcement, there’s still a big information gap on the logistics of administering the Covid vaccine to children aged between 15 and 18. 

“These are all just announcements. The logistical support that’s required, what vaccines will be given, what will the dosage schedule be, how will the stock be available, etc… There are huge information gaps, and until the central government gives us clarity, we can’t say anything about it. Members of the National Task Force were not consulted about this before the announcement was made,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has started reaching out to junior colleges, which in Mumbai cater to the 11th and 12th academic years (students aged between 16 and 18 years), to prepare for holding vaccination camps. 

“In Mumbai, there are more than 9 lakh students who will have to be vaccinated. We already have our vaccination centres, but other than these, we’ve also decided to set up camps in junior colleges,” additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani told reporters Monday.

“We are hoping to get some detailed guidelines on this from the Union government. We will start vaccinating this age group from 3 January as per the stock available to us.”

A Maharashtra health department official said the state government would also reach out to schools that have pupils over 15 years of age to set up vaccination camps. 

Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan told ThePrint: “We have a reasonable stock of around 25 lakh doses of Covaxin, and we are expecting to receive more doses from the Centre. Some of our previous vaccination sites were in schools and they are still active, so vaccine rollout will happen from there. We have also informed collectors of different districts in order to decentralise the process and ensure a successful vaccine rollout.”

“The vaccine hesitancy of the initial months has reduced drastically and we don’t think the situation will be like that this time. However, since it is a new group, we don’t want to take any chances,” he added. 

The Karnataka government has identified 43 lakh eligible people between the ages of 15 to 18 for vaccination rollout from January. 

The state government is gathering information on the eligible population and assessing suitable vaccination drive methods — whether to set up camps at schools and colleges, panchayat offices, door–to-door drives and so on. 

“We are collecting numbers from panchayat offices, the education department, the planning and statistics department, and the revenue department on estimates of children between the age of 15 and 18,” Dr K. Sudhakar, minister for health and family welfare, Karnataka, told ThePrint.

“We will roll out the vaccination process for them on 3 January, but are awaiting guidelines from the Union government. We expect the guidelines to be issued by Wednesday.”

Government authorities at the state and local levels say questions such as whether parental consent is required to administer Covid vaccines to children, whether mass vaccination camps can be set up at schools, the quantity of vaccines to procure and so on, remain unanswered. 

So far, the only information available is that children aged 15 to 18 can register on the CoWin platform using their student IDs, according to an announcement by R.S. Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority, Monday. 


Also read: Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine behind lower COVID deaths in UK, says expert


Institutions plan vaccination drives 

Uma Shankar, principal at Mumbai’s SIES College, told ThePrint that she had received a call from the BMC’s local ward office, asking her if the college could hold a vaccination drive if the civic body arranged for stock. 

“We have shown our readiness. We will give priority to our students, but also open up the drive to children aged between 15 and 18 who are not our students,” she said. 

“We have already started circulating Google Forms to parents and guardians of our students to get their consent,” she added. 

Jyoti Arora, principal of Mount Abu Public School in Rajasthan, told ThePrint that her institution is starting webinars for parent awareness from 1 January for a push. She said, “We are in talks with Apollo Hospital in our area to set up a vaccination camp in our school so that getting the vaccine becomes easy for our students. We are also inviting medical experts to conduct webinars to answer any queries that parents may have.”

In Delhi, Alka Kapur, principal of Modern Public School, plans to make vaccines mandatory for children once there is ease of availability in the city. She said, “We have already started reaching out to parents to consider vaccinating their wards. We are also planning to set up a vaccination camp at the earliest possible. However, in the coming months we would like to make vaccines mandatory for children to attend physical classes.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also read: Has Omicron reached its peak? Perhaps not — it might be the last Covid variant of concern


 

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