Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Thursday said the government does not want to make haste about administering COVID-19 vaccine to children and any decision in this regard will be taken based on expert opinion.
On when vaccination for children could start as Zydus Cadila's Covid vaccine has been granted emergency use authorisation for those 12-year-old and above, he said children were not being inoculated against COVID-19 on a large scale anywhere in the world though it has been initiated in some countries in a limited manner.
"We do not want to rush this thing. Since this is a matter related to children, the expert group is carrying out further studies," he said at the 'Times Now Summit 2021'.
All the vaccines which have currently received emergency use authorisation will be granted full authorisation only after a detailed study and based on the data of four to five years, he said.
"It is through data and experience we have learnt that even after vaccination Covid can happen. Then again, data emerged stating that after vaccination one does not get severe Covid. The first dose gives 96 per cent protection and both doses give 98.5 per cent protection.
"About vaccinating the children, we will make a decision based on expert opinion. We have decided to think and evaluate before going ahead with vaccinating children as they are the future of our country and we need to tread with caution in this matter," the minister said.
On the probability of administering a booster dose, he said adequate stocks are available and the aim is to complete the vaccination of the target population with two doses. After that, a decision on booster dose would be taken based on expert recommendation, Mandaviya said.
"The government cannot take a direct decision in such a matter. When the Indian Council of Medical Research and expert team will say that a booster dose should be given, we will consider it then," he said, adding Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always depended on expert opinion, be it vaccine research, manufacturing or approval.
Despite a large population and diverse challenges, nearly 80 per cent of India's adult population have taken at least the first dose. The country's vaccination performance has been remarkable, Mandaviya said.
About Covaxin's approval by WHO, the minister said that he had discussed the matter with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on more than a couple of occasions to understand the requirements a vaccine needed to fulfil to get the clearance.
"It is a matter of great pride that a vaccine developed and manufactured in India has been given EUA status."
Asked if the delay in getting the EUA was because Covaxin is an Indian vaccine and if there was there any discrimination against India, the Mandaviya replied, "I will not get into this matter."
He informed that 97 countries have recognised Covishield and Covaxin. In the coming days, vaccines manufactured in India will be made available around the globe at affordable rates, Mandaviya said and stressed India will play a major role in global covid vaccination efforts.
"We will get 31 crore doses in November with more due in December. Another five to six companies are set to come to India to manufacture vaccines here. We will help meet the world's requirement for Covid vaccines by providing $18 to 20 vaccines at $3 to 4. This is our commitment," he said.
The minister said that 16 crore vaccine doses are lying with the states and Union Territories.
Referring to the 'Har Ghar Dastak' vaccination at doorstep campaign, he said, "By December 31 we want to complete our target of vaccinating people aged 18 and above. It now depends on people's support."
Asked about the possibility of a third wave, Mandaviya said, "Covid is not over. Cases are rising globally. In Russia, China, Hong Kong cases are rising again despite more than 80 per cent vaccination. Vaccination and Covid-appropriate behaviour have to go hand in hand."
On preparations for a probable third wave, he said Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission has been launched and Rs 65,000 crore will be spent in the next five years to ramp up the health infrastructure across the country.
The aim is to form such a level of preparedness that India is ready to fight a pandemic-like exigency if anything like it comes up in the next 50 years, the Union health minister said.
"The second wave pointed out the shortages in health infrastructure. But, we don't believe in a blame game. PM Modi has linked health with development and the government under his leadership always made efforts to expand and strengthen health facilities," he said.
Discussing the Health Infrastructure Mission, Mandaviya said modern laboratories will be set up at the district level which will conduct 115 types of medical tests for the poor citizens free of cost.
Critical care units will be set up at the district level equipped with a 100-bed facility that has oxygen and ventilators. Besides, a research centre at the regional level will be set up so that epidemics are recognised on time before they assume pandemic proportions, he said.