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As the number of newly reported COVID-19 cases shows an upward trend in some parts of the country over the past weeks, the recent announcements on the availability of an additional COVID vaccine for children aged 12-17 and booster doses for all at private facilities, are likely to give an impetus to keeping the spread of the virus under control. Incidentally, the announcement making Covovax available for children came just a day before the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) confirmed India’s first case of Omicron mutant variant XE. 

Is XE a cause of worry?

The XE variant is a ‚Äúrecombinant” virus that contains the mutations found in BA.1 as well as BA.2 variants of Omicron and was first discovered in the UK in January. Experts have suggested that there is limited evidence that its severity and symptoms are different from other Omicron subvariants. However, it shows a slightly higher transmission rate. 

Experts have said that the XE sub-variant is likely to be 10 per cent more transmissible than the dominant BA.2 variant of Omicron, which had triggered the third wave in the country in January. So far there are no reports of XE clusters across India. Incidences of the detection of suspected recombinants and the possible public health relevance are being closely monitored as per the INSACOG.

Another vaccine for children to expand coverage 

As the virus continues to mutate, it is important for the country to maintain and improve its momentum on vaccinating all eligible populations. Covovax’s inclusion in the immunisation drive for children aged 12 to 17 years is, therefore, a welcome move, especially in the context of the reopening of schools and colleges. 

Covovax will be available for children at private centres with a provision for it being made on the CoWIN portal. The move followed the recommendation of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) that the COVID-19 jab can be administered in the age group of 12-17 years.

Covavax is the only vaccine manufactured in India that is also sold in Europe and has an efficacy of over 90 per cent. Currently, children aged 12 to 14 years are vaccinated with Biological E’s intramuscular vaccine Corbevax, while those in the 15-18 age group are being administered Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin at government vaccination centres. Earlier, India’s drug regulator had approved Covovax for restricted use in emergency situations in adults on December 28 last year and in the 12-17 age group, subject to certain conditions, on March 9.

Covovax is the second Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, which makes the Covishield, the vaccine that is most widely used in the country. On December 28 last year, the Drugs Controller General of India approved Covovax for emergency use in adults, and approved the vaccine for emergency use in those aged 12 and above in March this year.

Since the initiation of the inoculation drive to vaccinate children between 12 to 14 years in mid-March, close to 3 crore children have received a single dose while over 83 lakh have received both doses. Within the 15-18 age group, close to 6 crores adolescents have been administered the first dose, while over 4 crores have received both the jabs. Cumulatively, 189.60 Crore doses have been administered nationwide across all eligible age groups so far. 

Precautionary Booster Dose for All

Early last month, the Government announced that booster vaccine doses against Covid-19 will be available for everyone above the age of 18 years from April 10. These shots will be available at private vaccination centres and will be paid, while the government’s free vaccination campaign continues. The booster doses were first introduced after the Omicron variant began spreading across the country late last year. Till now, the government has approved booster doses for healthcare workers and for the elderly.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), booster doses are given to an already vaccinated individual when, with time, the immunity and clinical protection has fallen below a rate deemed sufficient in that population. The objective of a booster dose is to restore vaccine effectiveness from that deemed no longer sufficient.

To date, close to 2.2 lakh people between 18-and 44 years have received the precautionary dose, while close to 7 lakh people in the 45-59 age group have received the same. Over 1.5 crore people above the age of 60 have received a precautionary dose so far. 

Spike in cases in the National Capital Region

The number of cases has started surging in the national capital region over the past two weeks. On May 1, Delhi witnessed over 1000 coronavirus cases. Several private schools in Noida and Ghaziabad were shut for a week after Covid cases were reported among children.  Wearing masks has been made mandatory in public places and section 144 has been imposed in some parts. 

Moreover, the spike in numbers is still underrepresented as a recent survey found close to half of the cases in the sample being of self-diagnosed cases through the Rapid Antigen Test. The survey conducted by LocalCircles claimed that 42 per cent of Delhi-NCR residents that had symptoms and took a COVID-19 test in the last 30 days only took the self rapid antigen test. The survey received 16,000 responses from residents from across the districts of Delhi-NCR. 

With more than 15,700 Covid cases as of April 25, the number of new patients in India has nearly doubled over the last week as compared to the week before. Although authorities and health experts have not rung the alarm bells yet on another Covid wave, the rise in cases across the country should not be overlooked.

The rise was seen around four weeks ago after a gradual decline in cases over 11 weeks. Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have recorded the highest number of cases, with the national capital region accounting for a majority of the cases. The spike in Covid cases was first seen only in these states. Over the last week, the national capital saw over 6,300 cases, which was nearly three times that recorded a week ago.

Last week, nine more states, including Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Karnataka reported a significant rise in cases. Experts believe that the Omicron variant of coronavirus and its sub-types are driving the surge in Delhi, 

The BA.2.12.1, the Omicron sub-lineage that is causing the rise in Covid-19 cases in the National Capital Region (NCR), has a mutation in the spike protein which is akin to a mutation found only in the Delta lineage. Whether this causes any severity in infections is to be seen, but so far, clinicians claim that most Covid-19 positive cases are asymptomatic or mild.

References:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/covovax-now-available-for-children-in-india-says-adar-poonawalla-hails-modi-101651575538283.html

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/covovax-vaccine-now-available-for-12-17-age-group-at-private-centres-2940396

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/one-confirmed-coronavirus-xe-varient-case-in-india-no-reports-of-clusters-in-country-insacog-122050300336_1.html

https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1822746

Photo Credits:Deccan Herald

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