Gap between two Covishield doses extended to 12-16 weeks, says govt

Centre on Thursday said it accepted the recommendation of the COVID Working Group for extension of the gap between the first and second doses of Covishield vaccine to 12-16 weeks.

"The COVID Working Group chaired by Dr N K Arora has recommended extension of the gap between the first and second doses of COVISHIELD vaccine to 12-16 weeks from 6-8 weeks. Based on the available real-life evidences, particularly from UK, the COVID-19 Working Group agreed for increasing the dosing interval to 12-16 weeks between two doses of COVISHIELD vaccine. No change in interval of COVAXIN vaccine doses was recommended," said Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday.

The COVID Working Group comprises of Dr N K Arora- Director, INCLEN Trust, Dr Rakesh Agarwal, Director and dean, GIPMER, Puducherry, Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr J P Mulliyal, Retd professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr Naveen Khanna, Group Leader, International Centre For Genetic Engineering And Biotechnology  (ICGEB), JNU, New Delhi, Dr Amulya Panda, Director, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi and Dr V G Somani, Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), Govt of India.

The recommendation of the COVID 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 May 12, 2021, the ministry said, 

No change has been suggested for the dosage interval of Covaxin by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) which held its meeting recently.

The NTAGI has also stated that those having laboratory test proven SARS-CoV-2 illness should defer COVID-19 vaccination for six months after recovery, sources said, reported PTI.

According to the Union Health Ministry's current protocol, vaccine is to be taken four to eight weeks after recovery from COVID-19 infection and pregnant and lactating women are not to be administered the shots.

"Based on the available real life evidence 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.No change in interval of Covaxin vaccine doses was recommended," the sources said.

The recommendations come amid several states reporting shortage of vaccines.

Several states and UTs including Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana have decided to opt for global tenders for procurement of anti-coronavirus shots with the domestic supply falling short to meet the rising demand.

The panel also rejected the proposal for routinely screening all vaccine recipients with rapid antigen testing prior to COVID vaccination.

The NTAGI recommended that all pregnant women visiting for ante natal checkup may be informed about risks and benefits associated with Covishield and Covaxin. Based on the information provided, a pregnant woman may be offered the choice to take any of the COVID 19 vaccine.

Asserting that it has been a "science based decision" taken based on the recommendations of the NTAGI, V K Paul, member (Health) NITI Aayog said as per studies, initially the dosage interval between two doses of covishield was 4 to 6 weeks but then as more data became available secondary analysis showed increasing the dosage interval to 4 to 8 weeks can have some "advantage".

NTAGI is a standing committee which was constituted much before COVID-19 had emerged and works on immunization for children, Paul said, and added that "it looks at scientific data and we must respect the decision of this institution. They make independent decision."

They had seen that the UK by that time had already extended it to 12 weeks and WHO also had said the same, but many nations had not changed the dosage pattern, Paul noted.

At that time our science based technical committee anchored by ICMR along with DBT by looking at the available data felt breakthrough infections may increase if the gap is increased beyond eight weeks, Paul said.

"So in good faith, based on science, without any pressures, they increased the dosage interval to 4 to 8 weeks. Now based on the available real-life evidences, particularly from the UK, the decision to extend it from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks has been taken with confidence that there will not be an extra risk" he said.

"This is a dynamic decision and, part of periodic review," Pauladded.

Asked if the efficacy of the vaccine will be affected with this extension, Paul said, "The efficacy is so good even after the single's not a problem at all."

This is the second time in the past few months that the interval between the two doses of Covishield has been increased. In March, the Union health ministry had asked states and UTs to increase the gap from 28 days to 6-8 weeks.

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