Mumbai, January 3 (Reuters): India vaccinated more than 3.8 million teens aged between 15 and 18 years on Monday, as the country expanded an inoculation effort to protect its large adolescent population ahead of a looming wave of coronavirus infections.
The teenagers, many wearing their uniforms, queued at schools and health centres across the country as health workers injected them with Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – the only COVID-19 vaccine so far approved by India for those below 18 years.
The drive has come amid a sharp rise in cases in India, with the federal health ministry on Monday reporting 33,750 new infections and 123 deaths. The total number of cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant detected in India was 1,700.
Data from the health ministry’s CoWIN portal showed that 3.85 million doses of vaccines had been administered to those aged between 15 and 17 years on Monday.
Kishan Bhuyan, 17, queued with friends in the eastern city of Bhubaneswar after registering online for the COVID-19 jab.
“I was waiting for this (vaccination) for so long,” Bhuyan, a high school student, said after receiving his vaccine. “I am now protected.”
Several countries including the United States, Britain and South Korea have seen infections among children fuelling a rise in cases in recent weeks and have encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated.
India has more than 120 million people aged between 15 and 19 years, according to the country’s 2011 Census, and the largest population of adolescents in the world, as per UNICEF estimates.
Some Indian states have set ambitious vaccination targets. Authorities in Gujarat, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, are hoping to give a first dose to 3.6 million teens this week.
“We have the capacity and we have the vaccines to cover most of the children. We appeal to parents to cooperate and ensure the children are vaccinated at the earliest,” said Jai Prakash Shivahare, Gujarat’s health commissioner.
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