NEW DELHI: With reopening of schools raising concern over the safety of children below 15 years of age, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said in the Rajya Sabha that the government will take a decision to vaccinate this group based on suggestions of an expert group.
The government has constituted an expert group to give suggestions on which age group to be given COVID-19 vaccine first and accordingly vaccination for the 15-18 age group is underway, he said during the Question Hour.
"About 67 per cent in the age group of 15-18 years have been vaccinated so far. The vaccination drive is being implemented in a speedy manner. The future decision (to vaccinate those below 15 year age) will be taken based on the expert group's suggestion," Mandaviya said.
He added that the expert group meets regularly and gives suggestions based on which the government takes action.
The minister was responding to a query by BJP member Syed Zafar Islam on level of threat of Omicron variant of coronavirus on children amid reopening of schools and with those below 15 years of age not being vaccinated.
Responding to another query by BJP member TG Venkatesh on effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine, the minister said, "I am happy to share that not only India's ICMR but global scientific institutes have said vaccination will help reduce mortality rate and hospitalisation rate. This has successfully reduced."
In India, 97.5 per cent of eligible beneficiaries have got the first dose of vaccination and 77 per cent of them have received the second dose, he said. "In developed countries, not more than 90 per cent of people have got their first dose. However, India has done...We are tackling the COVID-19 crisis better," he added.
Mandaviya further said India has been able to tackle the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the vaccination. A study by ICMR released two days back showed that 99.3 per cent people who had contracted COVID-19 were safe as they were vaccinated, he said, and added this is a good indication.
India has set an example before the world in tackling the COVID-19 crisis despite having diversity and a huge population, he added. The minister also mentioned that the vaccine helps develop antibodies in the body and protects from other variants of Covid virus.
Responding to a demand by CPM MP Johan Brittas on either reducing the charges or setting uniform charges for RT-PCR tests across the country, the Minister said there are different technologies available for RT-PCR testing kits. "It is freely available in government hospitals, while rates vary in private hospitals. If government facilities are utilised, there won't be any charges," he added.
Responding to a question by Seema Dwivedi (BJP) on steps taken to remove the fear of COVID-19 among people, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar said the government has taken several initiatives to help such people.
As a result, 5.77 lakh calls have been received on the helpline and about two crore people have benefited from tele-consultation services in which mental health consultation was also a part, she said, adding advisories were issued to states to take steps to reduce mental stress among people.
The MoS said the government in the Budget 2022-23 has announced a national tele mental health program under which 23 centres with the help of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) will be set up.
The tele mental health service through the centre for excellence will provide help to people in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and other states, she added.
Replying to a query by Anand Sharma (Cong) and Prasanna Acharya (BJD) on steps taken to support deserted mentally challenged patients, the MoS said about 10 beds are reserved for such patients at district level under the National Health Mission and even funds are provided to states.