About vaccines for children and Covaxin…

I don’t understand his penchant for late-night announcements, much less one at 10 pm on Christmas night, but Prime Minister Narendra has just said the government will roll out vaccines for young adults aged 15-18 years from January 3, 2022 – around the same time I received a press release from Bharat Biotech saying the drug regulator had approved the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, for emergency-use among those aged 12-18 years.

I think there’s a lot we don’t know about Covaxin at this time – similar to (but hopefully not to the same extent as) when the regulator approved it for emergency-use among adults on January 3, 2021. But what grates at me more now is this: more than being any other vaccine to protect against COVID-19, Covaxin has been the Indian government’s pet project.

This favour has manifested in the form of numerous government officials supporting its use and advantages sans nearly sufficient supporting evidence, and in the form of help the vaccine hasn’t deserved at the time the government extended it – primarily the emergency-use approval for adults. Most of all, Covaxin has become a victim of India’s vaccine triumphalism.

And I’m wary that Prime Minister Modi’s 10 pm announcement is a sign that a similar sort of help is in the offing. Until recently, up to December 24 in fact, officials including Rajesh Bhushan, Vinod K. Paul and Balram Bhargava said the government is being guided by science on the need to vaccinate children. Yet Modi’s announcement coincides with the drug regulator’s approval for Covaxin’s emergency-use among children.

I admit this isn’t much to go on, but it isn’t an allegation either. It’s the following doubt: given the recent political history of Covaxin and its sorry relationship with the Indian government, will we stand to lose anything by ignoring the timing of the prime minister’s announcement? Put another way – and even if pulling at this thread turns out to be an abortive effort – did the government wait to change its policy on vaccinating those aged younger than 18 years until it could be sure Covaxin was in the running? (The drug regulator had approved another vaccine for children in August, Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D – another train-wreck.)

Modi’s announcement also has him making a deceptively off-handed comment that today is Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birth anniversary. Such an alignment of dates has never been a coincidence in Modi’s term as prime minister. Makes one wonder what else isn’t a coincidence…