This is the second time in three months Covishield dosage intervals have been widened
An Indian government panel on Thursday recommended that the gap between two doses of the Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, can be widened to 12-16 weeks.
At present, the interval between two doses of the vaccine is four to eight weeks.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), however, has not suggested any change in dosage interval for the India's home-grown vaccine, Covaxin, which remains at four to six weeks, reports NDTV citing news agency PTI.
The NTAGI also said pregnant women can choose their vaccine and lactating women will be eligible after delivery, while both were ineligible to get the shots.
The recommendations will be sent to the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for approval before they are implemented, it reported.
Many countries are following this practice. In Canada, for example, the gap is 3-4 months.— Dr. Ashwathnarayan C. N. (@drashwathcn) May 13, 2021
In the meantime, we are also making all efforts to increase #vaccine supply and explore local production options.https://t.co/7QDUY3zYdO
Dr CN Ashwathnarayan, the deputy chief minister of Karnataka - one of several states to flag low vaccine stocks, later tweeted: "Extending the gap assists the government in carrying out the inoculation programme effectively."
"Many countries follow this practice. In Canada the gap is three-four months. In the meantime, we are making all efforts to increase supply and explore local production options," he said.
This is the second time in three months Covishield dosage intervals have been widened.
In March, states and union territories were told to increase the gap from 28 days to six-eight weeks "for better results."
At that time the centre also said: "Protection was enhanced if the second dose of Covishield was administered between six and eight weeks but not later than that."
The fresh changes prompted a sarcastic swipe from Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who flagged the ever-widening recommended interval between doses.
"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?" he asked.
"Can we expect some transparency from the Modi government?" he added.
First, it was 4 weeks for the 2nd dose, then 6-8 weeks and now we are told 12-16 weeks. Is this because there are not enough stocks of the vaccines for all who are eligible or because professional scientific advice says so? Can we expect some transparency from the Modi Govt? pic.twitter.com/DJy31KEA0a— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 13, 2021
The widening of Covishield dosage intervals has been linked to increased efficacy.
A study published in international medical journal The Lancet on February 19 claimed a 26.2% increase — from 55.1% to 81.3% — if doses were spaced 12 or more weeks apart.
However, the recommended changes to intervals also come amid an acute shortage of doses as the manufacturer, Serum Institute of India (SII), struggles to keep pace with demand.
Earlier on Thursday, SII officials told the centre that Covishield production would be increased to 10 crore doses — but only from August — and that June-July production "may also increase by some quantity."
Covid situation in India
India is struggling to contain a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths, with daily numbers now over 300,000 for more than 21 consecutive days.
The flood of cases has brought the country's healthcare system to its knees, and stressed the need for rapid vaccination.
The national vaccination drive began on January 16 and over 17.5 crore doses have been administered so far, but vaccine coverage is still less than 2.5% of the population.
A number of states, including national capital Delhi and Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka, have floated global tenders for direct import of vaccines.