Covid-19 vaccinations of children above the age of 12 in India is likely to start by September, NK Arora, who heads the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration, told NDTV on Thursday. Currently, India is vaccinating only those above 18 against the coronavirus.

Arora added that the approval for emergency use authorisation for the Zydus vaccine, ZyCov-D, will come within weeks. On July 1, Zydus Cadila had said that it has applied for emergency use authorisation its three-dose coronavirus vaccine.

If approved by the Drug Controller General of India, this will be the world’s first DNA vaccine, as it makes use of a portion of the genetic code – deoxyribonucleic acid or ribonucleic acid – in the SARS-CoV-2 virus to stimulate an immune response against its spike protein.

The shot, the company said, is “needle-free” and “safe for children”.

The trial data for 12 to 18-year-olds will be available within a few months. “By the end of September we should be able to give it,” Arora said. He added that this will be followed up with Covaxin.

“Covaxin phase 3 trials have started and by the end of September, I think we should be there [begin vaccination], Arora told NDTV. “I think sometime in the third quarter or by early January-February we should be able to give it to 2 to 18-year-olds.”

The Zydus Cadila vaccine was developed using the support of the Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research. This will be the fifth vaccine to be used if authorised, after Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Russia’s Sputnik V and Moderna.

Several countries are focusing on vaccinating children as the next wave of the pandemic is said to affect them the most. However, an ongoing sero survey has shown that children are unlikely to be affected disproportionately should a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit India.

Inoculation of children has been important also because governments are considering ways to ensure the safe reopening of schools. It has been over 450 days since schools were shut across India. This was the largest physical closure of schools in the world, affecting 24.7 crore children.

“The issue of school opening and other things are very important and those are being discussed actively,” said Arora.

The Union Ministry of Education has released an action plan titled “Covid response in School Education”. In it, the government has overwhelmingly focussed on home-learning programmes. However, the plan fails to provide a clear commitment and timeline of how and when schools will partially/fully reopen respectively.

Earlier on Thursday, new Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the government was planning to set up paediatric centres in 736 districts over the next nine months. Close to 4,000 specialised intensive care unit beds will also be readied for children.