Make schools a centre for kids to get Covid jab: Experts

As India prepares to vaccinate children against Covid, experts and government administrators are in favour of involving schools and private paediatricians in the vaccination process, in addition to government-run public and community health clinics.

Trauma and hesitancy

This is to avoid the trauma and hesitancy of being in an unfamiliar and crowded environment while visiting a PHC or CHC. Child health experts believe a familiar surrounding will make it easier for the kids to take a jab.

“A kid gets comfortable in presence of his friends, teachers and parents. Vaccinating a kid in such an environment won’t be a challenge. This will make the vaccination swift and easy for kids. “Schools have most things available to them. The staff can be trained and a paediatrician can be assigned to the school,” said a senior health official with the Rajasthan government.

A different approach

As parents eagerly wait for child-compatible vaccines, paediatrician Dr Nishchal Bhatt says that India needs a different approach for the immunisation of children against Covid. Bhatt is Chairperson, Adolescent Health Academy, Ahmedabad, and a member of the Gujarat Covid Task Force.

“About 65-70 per cent of routine children immunisation in urban areas happen through private clinics. So for Covid vaccinations, we can’t estimate how many parents would actually visit government facilities. In such a scenario, the government should allow private practitioners and paediatricians to administer Covid jabs to kids,” said Bhatt, adding that in rural areas the popular trend of visiting a government facility can continue. Pointing to the psychological effect, experts noted that immunisation at an unfamiliar place may create anxiety and trauma.

“But the children won’t feel the fear at a paediatric clinic because it is a familiar place to them,” said Dr Piyush Gupta, President of Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP).

The argument to task paediatricians with vaccinating children below the age of 18 years is strong. Their clinics are already equipped with trained staff and infrastructure for storage of vaccines and monitoring, as well as treatment in case of an adverse event from immunisation.

“It would be the most appropriate thing to give this responsibility to paediatricians. They need to be empowered to vaccinate the kids against Covid,” Gupta told BusinessLine.

Regulators have given an emergency approval to only one vaccine, a plasmid DNA vaccine developed by Zydus Cadila. The needle-free vaccine is to be administered intradermally unlike the existing Covid vaccines that are injectables.

Economic viability

While the distribution of children’s vaccines would also be centrally controlled and monitored, some paediatricians have flagged concerns of economic viability and wastage if government-run centres that don’t charge for the vaccination come up in the neighbourhood and compete with private practitioners, jeopardising their efforts and investments. Health administrators may need to consider this, too, while finalising their strategy.

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