Doctors weigh in on the importance of Covid vaccine for kids and booster shots for adults

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced yesterday vaccination for children aged 15-18 years, along with booster doses for frontline health workers and people with comorbidities aged above 60. The vaccination for children will begin from January 3, 2022 while that for health workers and senior citizens will commence from January 10, 2022. The announcement comes in the wake of rising concerns over Omicron variant cases in India which have crossed 400 till date.

“Boosters are a refresher course for the immune system in your body. In case you get Omicron, the immune system fights it faster and easier,” said Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, director, Covid Task Force, Awareness, Rotary Club of Madras Next-Gen. She added: “In unvaccinated people, viruses stay and spread for a longer time. Every time the virus infects a new person, there is a chance that a new variant will evolve. With vaccination for young adults, we are reducing those chances.”

On the importance of young adults getting the vaccine, Dr Dhanya Dharmapalan, consultant in Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai, told this outlet, “India has one of the largest child population in the world. This population, if remains unvaccinated, can act as a reservoir for the virus to mutate further. Though COVID-19 is relatively a mild disease in children, immunisation in children is an essential step to slow down or halt the transmission in the community as they can be super spreaders.”

She also said that children with “comorbidities have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 as compared to healthy children”. “Vaccinated children will also help protect their younger siblings who might not be age eligible for vaccination. Vaccination will be one of the best measures to offer a secure future of uninterrupted school education,” said Dr Dharmapalan.

Dr Poonam Sidana, neonatologist and paediatrician at CK Birla Hospital, Delhi, explained that young adults “need to be sure they don’t have any acute infections or high temperature fever”. “For people with cancer or other diseases, they might be on immuno-suppressants or drugs with which the vaccine may not be effective or maybe even contraindicate. If you had Covid infection, sit back 2-3 weeks and share all this information with your doctor to check that you are eligible for the vaccine.”

The vaccines have been approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). “If the child has an acute illness, it is better to defer the vaccine till recovery of the child.”

The doctors suggested staying in the vaccination premises for 15 minutes to half-an-hour to be observed by healthcare workers for any allergic reaction.

“The booster doses are giving about 5-10x increased protection against Omicron and other variants as the initial vaccine effect probably wanes by 6-9 months and the antibody levels decrease significantly,” shared Dr Jayalaxmi TK, consultant, pulmonologist, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai, who also warned that Omicron cases will increase rapidly in the coming weeks and peak by January end.

For people of and above 60 years with comorbidities — like severe lung diseases, diabetes, lung cancer, immune deficiency, hypertension, obesity, bronchitis, heart diseases, history of stroke or chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hypothyroid, blood pressure, and more — they should go for the booster dose as early as possible, suggested Dr Jayalaxmi, warning those on chemotherapy to “avoid chemotherapy within 3 weeks of the booster dose.”

“If the platelet count is very low or any bleeding tendency is there, they need to apply pressure for a longer time after taking the vaccine,” she added.

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