New Delhi: In a significant decision, the Centre on Thursday increased the gap between the two doses of COVISHIELD, anti-COVID-19 vaccine from existing 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks. There is no change in the gap between the other vaccine COVAXIN. This is the second time the gap between the two doses of COVISHIELD is increased after it was earlier permitted for 4-8 weeks of spacing.
India on Thursday had about 3.63 lakh new cases of COVID-19 and 4,120 deaths due to it and there is huge rush among people to get vaccinated to escape harsh effect of the COVID infection.
The decision for higher spacing between two shots comes amid speculation that it has been done in view of shortage of the vaccines. However, the Union Health Ministry said the decision to increase time was based on the recommendations of the COVID Working Group and was “completely science based decision”. This Working group has also said that those who test positive for COVID-19 should not go for vaccination for six months after recovery.
“Based on the available real-life new evidences that have come from Oxford, 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,” ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava adding in the coming days more scientific data in this regard will be presented.
NITI Aayog Member Dr VK Paul underlined there was no pressure from any side to increase the gaps. “It was done in good faith without any pressure with the sole purpose of providing protection cover to the people of India. It was felt that otherwise breakthrough infections will increase. Reviewing the vaccine doses is constant and dynamic process. Several other countries are doing it. UK and WHO has already increased space between Covishield and other vaccine like Pfizer but many countries did not change the vaccination pattern. We have taken a scientific decision,” Dr Paul said. He added that there will be no impact on efficacy of the vaccine due to this extension and the single dose itself is good very strong.
Facing criticism for shortage of vaccines in several States, the Centre tried to clarify its position saying States have been given the flexibility to buy from vaccine manufacturers directly and also take supplies from Centre. He said Delhi has been so far given 75 crores of COVAXIN and part from that the UT government has procured 1 lakh and private sector has bought 20 lakh doses. Delhi Government has stopped giving COVAXIN shots citing shortage of doses.
Dr Paul said in the coming six months more than 200 crore doses of various vaccines will be available in the country to significantly boost the vaccination drive as COVID-19 vrius has started spreading in to rural areas now.
“Production of vaccines in India is being ramped up due to which more than 200 crore doses of COVID vaccines will be available between August to December this year. Those doses would include 75 crore of AstraZeneca's vaccine produced in India by Serum Institute of India, 55 crore doses of COVAXIN made by Bharat Biotech, 30 crore doses of the shot developed by India's Biological E (which is Phase 3 of trials), 20 crore doses of Novavax from Serum Institute, 15.6 crore doses of Sputnik V, 10 crore doses of Bharat Biotech's nasal vaccine (single dose vaccine), 5 crore from Zydus Cadila (in phase 3 trial stage and will apply for license soon), and 6 crore doses of Gennova vaccine,” said Dr Paul. He added by the first quarter of the next year, the number is likely to be 300 crore.
Dr Paul further said a consignment of Russia's Sputnik vaccine has arrived in India, and is expected to be available in the market from next week. “There should be no doubt that vaccines will be available for all as we move forward... Any vaccine that is approved by FDA (US Food and Drug Administration), WHO can come to India. Import license will be granted within 1-2 days. No import license is pending. We are also pursuing Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson (JJ) for their vaccines at a very high diplomatic level and hopefully the JJ vaccine should come to India along with transfer of technology under Quad agreement,” Dr Paul said.
Meanwhile, the Drugs Controller General of India on Thursday approved Phase II and III clinical trials of COVAXIN in the age group of 2 to 18 years. Bharat Biotech will conduct these trials on 525 healthy volunteers. In the trial, the vaccine will be given by intramuscular route in two doses at day 0 and day 28.