India to begin virus vaccination for youths aged 15 to 18

A man dress as Santa Claus checks the temperature of students as they arrive to attend classes at a school in Mumbai, India, Dec15, 2021. (RAFIQ MAQBOOL / AP)

NEW DELHI / JERUSALEM / SINGAPORE / MANILA – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that a new COVID-19 vaccination drive for youths aged between 15 and 18 years will be launched in the country from Jan 3, 2022.

In addition, booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be given to health workers and frontline workers from Jan 10. Those above 60 years with comorbidities would be offered booster shots after recommendations from doctors, Modi added.

Addressing the nation on TV, Modi asked the Indian people not to panic and avoid rumors about COVID-19 or the Omicron variant.   

He said that Indian scientists are keeping a close watch on the varied experiences from different countries regarding the Omicron variant.

Over the past 11 months, 61 percent of the adults in India have been fully vaccinated while 90 percent of the adults have received the first dose, he added. 

India has reported a swift rise in Omicron cases, with the number reaching 415 overall across 17 Indian states.

Modi's government has been accelerating its vaccination campaign, administering at least one dose to 88 percent of the eligible 944 million population, while 61 percent have taken both doses.

As millions still await second shots, the authorities will now start offering booster shots to healthcare and frontline workers, who suffered from an overwhelming second-wave of the virus in the summer that killed tens of thousands.

Medical experts have said India needs to double down on its vaccination campaign and expand coverage to avert another possible surge in new infections particularly in the vast hinterlands where healthcare facilities are sparse.

Modi urged citizens to continue to wear facemasks and follow other COVID-19 protocols.


Israel has ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer Inc's anti-viral COVID 19 pill Paxlovid for people aged 12 and older at risk of severe illness, an Israeli official said on Saturday, confirming a television report.

Channel 12 TV said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed the deal in a phone conversation with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. There was no immediate confirmation from the company.

The first oral and at home treatment for COVID-19, Paxlovid was nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from Pfizer's clinical trial. Recent lab data suggests the drug retains effectiveness against the Omicron variant, it said.


Singapore reported 248 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing its total tally to 277,555.

Of the new cases, 177 were in the community, five were in migrant worker dormitories and 66 were imported cases, according to statistics released by the health ministry.

A total of 392 cases are currently warded in hospitals, with 19 cases being critically ill in the intensive care unit.

The Philippines

The Philippines reported 433 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday, pushing the tally to 2,838,640.

The country also reported 13 more death from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 51,200.

According to the Department of Health, Metro Manila tops the regions with the most active and new cases, followed by two adjacent regions.

The reproduction number in the capital region rose to 0.7 on Dec 22 from 0.42 on Dec 15, said Guido David from OCTA Research that analyses the DOH data. The figure, a way of rating a disease's ability to spread, indicates that currently, one infected person will pass on the virus to 0.7 people on average.

"The holiday uptick may explain the increasing reproduction number and positivity rate," he said, referring to the increased mobility of people.

Filipinos travel to their hometown during the holiday season to reunite with their families. It is also the season to meet friends and hold office parties, especially now that the government has eased the lockdown restrictions.