This is the second time in three months when the government has increased the gap between the two doses of Covishield. In March, the government told the states and UTs to increase the interval from 28 days to 6-8 weeks for better results.
Serum Institute of India (SII) is producing the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine— Covishield in India.
Meanwhile, there are no changes in dosage intervals for Covaxin, which remains at 4 to 6 weeks.
“Based on the available real-life evidences, particularly from the UK, the Covid-19 Working Group agreed for increasing the dosing interval to 12-16 weeks between two doses of Covishield vaccine,” said the Union health ministry while addressing the media persons.
“No change in interval of Covaxin vaccine doses was recommended,” the ministry added.
“Amidst the acute shortage of Covishield vaccine in the country, allegation sparked that
the government is trying to squeeze the current stocks of the Covishield and wants to
vaccinate as many people as possible at least one dose till supply can take a boost.”
The present gap between two doses of Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, is 6 to 8 weeks. Increasing of Covishield dosage intervals has been linked to increased efficacy.
“The recommendation of the COVID-19 Working Group was accepted by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), headed by Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, in its meeting on 12 May this year,” the ministry added.
It has accepted this recommendation of the COVID-19 Working Group of extension of the gap between the first and second doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks, the health ministry added.
A study published in the international medical journal The Lancet on 19 February claimed a 26.2% increase – from 55.1% to 81.3% – if doses were spaced 12 or more weeks apart.
However, no change has been suggested for the dosage interval for Covaxin, it said.
Those who have tested positive for Covid-19 and are waiting to take the vaccine should defer vaccination for six months after recovery, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) recommended.
Also, Covid-19 patients who have been given monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma can defer vaccination for three months from the day they are out of the hospital, the recommendations say.
Those with any other serious illness requiring hospitalisation or ICU care should also wait for four to eight weeks before getting the next vaccine.
Notably, the national vaccination drive began on 16 January, and over 17.7 crore doses have been administered so far, but full vaccine coverage is still less than 2.5 per cent of the population.
Meanwhile, the change has been announced when there is an acute shortage of Covishield doses in the country, forcing some states to halt vaccination for the 18-44 age groups.
The Serum Institute is also struggling hard to meet the demand.
Though, people are alleging the government is trying to squeeze the current stocks and wants to vaccinate as many people as possible at least one dose till supply can be a boost or restocked.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “First, it was four weeks for the second dose, then six-eight weeks and now we are told 12-16 weeks. Is this because there are not enough stocks of vaccines… or because professional scientific advice says so? Can we expect some transparency from the Modi government?”