On 25th December 2021, the Prime Minister of India announced that the COVID-19 vaccinations would be started for the 15-18 age group from January 2022 onwards. While this seems to be a step in the right direction, are we a little too late in joining the party? Globally, more than 100 countries have already completed vaccinating a large proportion of their pediatric population from ages 12 and above. Some countries in the Middle East, Latin America, China have started vaccinating even children above 3 years of age.
In India, schools and colleges have begun conducting physical classes for students only in the last few months. Since then, there has been a spate of news reports regarding a cluster of COVID-19 cases developing on educational premises. It is well-documented that virtual learning over the last 2 years has had an adverse impact on children’s mental health and quality of learning, particularly in regions and population subsets that do not have easy economic access to digital devices such as tablets, laptops and phones. Even in children with economic access to virtual learning, increased screen time, lack of opportunities to interact with peers has been shown to have an impact on their general and mental health.
In such a scenario, going forward, regular scheduling of physical classes with appropriate safety checks is the need of the hour. Ensuring young school and college-going students have access to COVID-19 vaccinations should be the priority for all central and state governments. In the process of coping with the present, let us not make the mistake of jeopardizing, the country’s future– its young children!