Four months into the Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Union government has extended the gap between two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks from six to eight weeks. The move is based on additional data, particularly real life experience of the UK showing increased advantage with higher interval between shots, the health ministry said on Thursday. The gap between Covishield doses, developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford University combine and manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, was tweaked once before as well from 30 days to six to eight weeks.
The increased gap comes at a time when several states are grappling with shortage of vaccine, halting the universal adult inoculation drive for the time being. But, V K Paul, member-health, Niti Aayog, said at the press briefing that India was expecting the total supply of vaccine doses to exceed 2 billion during August to December through eight different candidates.
Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has conveyed the change in the dosage interval to all states and asked them to ensure that it was followed by beneficiaries and Asking state health secretaries to communicate the new interval to all programme managers Bhushan said, “Requisite changes would be made to CoWIN platform and would be separately communicated to the states.”
The government has so far procured 356 million doses–Covishield 276 million and Covaxin 80 million. In addition, 160 million more doses have been procured by states and private hospitals taking the total supply to 516 million. Till now, some 177 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the country.
On the extended dose interval recommended by the Covid Working Group, Paul said, “This decision is part of a periodical review. It is a dynamic situation from a scientific point of view. It is a science-based decision. We got the confidence to make this decision on the basis of real life experience. Please have faith in our scientific processes.” Besides the UK, some other countries including Canada have an extended gap between the two dozes of the AstraZeneca jab.
The decision has been taken after consultation with experts including the World Health Organisation and Oxford University. The national technical advisory group on immunization in its meeting also made a similar recommendation on the vaccine being manufactured by Serum Institute.
No change has been recommended in the interval of Bharat Biotech-made Covaxin doses.
“Breakthrough infections (infections after vaccination) were increasing and protection was the only purpose of the vaccine which is when the dose interval was increased to six to eight weeks,” Paul said referring to an earlier extension in the time period between two doses of the Covishield vaccine.
India has so far given the first dose to one-third of its 45 plus population. Several states including Ladakh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have performed better than the national average while many are below this benchmark.
Also, half of those eligible for the second dose have received the jab, according to government data. West Bengal, Sikkim, Tripura, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh,Chhattisgarh and Odisha are among states which have given the second dose to 70 per cent of the eligible population.
While the government estimates that the supply of vaccines will cross 2 billion by end of the year through eight different vaccines, it is hopeful that foreign brands such as Pfizer and Moderna would also be available in India. “Adult population is around 950 million and with these doses everyone will be able to get the vaccine. There should be no doubt,” Paul said.
He said the government had been in constant touch with the global vaccine makers. Pointing out that the companies are assessing the availability in the third quarter of 2021, Paul said, “We invite them to manufacture here and have technology transfer. We will support them in every possible way.”