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Consider children to be a Covid-19 virus reservoir: Expert

by Pragati Singh

According to Indian virologist Dr T Jacob John, children can be potential Sars-CoV-2 reservoirs, making vaccination a public health imperative. The senior medical expert emphasised the importance of prioritising the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 18 years old in order to reduce virus transmission and the risk of the emergence of new variants due to mutations.

“We have underestimated the epidemic among children as they are not falling sick so much, but we must think of children as a reservoir of the virus,” said John. He was speaking at an online session organised by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics on Tuesday evening.

He cited a study by researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) that confirmed that children are capable of carrying and replicating the Sar-CoV-2. The study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases included 110 Covid-19 patients aged two weeks to 21 years. While the researchers did not find a correlation between viral load and severity of the disease in kids, they said that it was a misconception that children, who are mostly asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, are less infectious.

John suggested that the government should prioritise children in the age group of 12 to 18 as a pilot and then open the vaccination for much younger children.

India’s epidemic stage is over

“India has reached the end of the epidemic phase of Covid-19, and is in an endemic phase which will be a long haul,” said John. “Paediatric vaccination will play a crucial role in keeping the Covid-19 numbers in the endemic stage,” he said.

Navi Mumbai-based Paediatrician Dr Vijay Yewale, who is a former president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, said that the Covid-19 trend among children has been that of mild disease. “We see Covid-related complications very rarely among children,” he said, adding that it is likely that the government will open paediatric vaccination only for children with comorbidities at first.

John cited his observations of the past 16 weeks during which the number of cases in India has been steady without any upswings. In addition, the latest serological survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research has shown 70% sensitivity. “At least 95% of the population has antibodies, considering all the factors,” he said, adding that barring some states like Kerala, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim, India is in an endemic phase.

John predicts that a third wave is unlikely in the current circumstances, but if it hits, the timing will be sometime mid- 2022 or the last quarter of 2022. “India’s endemic phase is likely to be influenced by re-infections. But we can forget about the third wave for the time being. If at all the third wave hits, it will be because of a new variant which does not acknowledge our existing immunity,” he said.

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