Flu shots for children can cut Covid rush at hospitals: Experts

By Express News Service
NEW DELHI /BENGALURU /HYDERABAD: Amid concerns that children, who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, might be the biggest casualty in the next pandemic wave, the Centre on Tuesday said it will soon issue guidelines for Covid-19 management in kids and prepare hospital infrastructure to face any influx of child patients. 

However, Dr VK Paul, Niti Aayog member (health) and chairman of national Covid-19 task force, on Tuesday said that so far, only 2-3% of Covid-infected kids have required hospital care. Dr Paul, who himself is a paediatrician, averred that available scientific evidence suggests children are less susceptible to severe disease. 

He said the government is nevertheless prepared for any exigency. “We will strengthen our facilities as required and do an audit of what is required and what might be required in a worst-case scenario,” he said. According to public health expert Chandrakant Lahariya, serosurveys have shown prevalence of infection was similar across all age groups. “So, a large number of kids may have been affected already,” he said. But not many kids became seriously ill. This is because unlike adults, children have smaller number of ACE 2 receptors, which the coronavirus uses to enter human cells, he added. 

While some doctors have advocated flu shots for kids to guard against Covid, a senior paediatrician in AIIMS, Delhi said it may not be suitable for India. “The flu shots are prepared for influenza virus strains prevalent in Europe,” he said.

Expressing similar views, Dr Jagadish Chinappa, a consultant child specialist at Manipal Hospitals in Bengaluru, said vaccinating kids with flu shots will not protect them from the risk of Covid-19 infection. However, it will help avoid the confusion if the cough, cold and fever in children are due to Covid-19 or influenza.

“The Indian Paediatric Society has recommended vaccinating children to only reduce the need for Covid testing, decrease the burden on the healthcare system and protect children from influenza and not because the flu shot will prevent Covid-19. They are two different vaccines,” he added.

Study on alternatives not conclusive

There are also studies published on vaccinating children with polio vaccines, but that is not proven on a mass scale. “The country needs to wait for the specific vaccine and, when there are no proper studies and enough data to vaccinate children with polio drops, etc, it is better all such things are avoided,” Dr Jagadish Chinappa of Manipal Hospitals noted.

Dr Asha Benakappa, paediatrics head at Chandramma Sagar Hospital and Research Centre, Bengaluru, said, “Both are different viruses with different receptors. We can only say the immune system will be activated, as children have missed their routine vaccination and annual viral infections, because of respiratory hygiene and closed schools. This will boost the immune system.”

“It is like training the warriors inside the body with some skills to fight the virus, if not specifically Covid-19,” said Dr Dinesh Kumar Chrila, director of intensive care services at Rainbow Hospitals, Hyderabad. According to him, there are two scientific reasons why vaccinating children under 10 with flu shots is a good idea because it would prevent co-infections if affected with Covid-19 and reduce severity. Also, it will ensure there is no misdiagnosis.

Rising child Covid patient count in Maharashtra adds to worryMumbai: Covid infection among children is soaring in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, the latest report by the state health department shows. As many as 9,416 positive cases among children below 18 years of age were reported from Ahmednagar.

In April, 757 positive cases were reported among children below five years, while there were 1,510 cases of infections among the 5-10 year-olds, and 5,340 among 11-18 year-olds. In March, 188 children below the age of five years were infected. This number was higher among the 6-10 years age group at 270, and even higher among the 11-18 years category – 1,173