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Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday said the decision to increase the gap between two doses of Covishield has been taken in a transparent manner based on scientific data.

|| Debasnata Nayak

“Decision to increase the gap between administering 2 doses of #COVISHIELD has been taken in a transparent manner based on scientific data. India has a robust mechanism to evaluate data. It’s unfortunate that such an important issue is being politicised!” he tweeted.

The statement comes amid reports that the Centre had doubled the gap between the two doses of Covishield without the agreement of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI). NTAGI scientists told Reuters that the body did not have enough data to make such a recommendation.

However, Chairman of the Covid-19 Working Group of NTAGI, N K Arora, has said the decision to increase the gap between Covishield doses was completely based on scientific evidence. Moreover, refuting claims that scientists did not back the move, Arora said there was no dissent among the NTAGI members regarding the decision.

“In the last week of April, the data released by Public Health England, UK’s executive agency of the Department of Health, showed that vaccine efficacy varied between 65% to 88% when interval is 12 weeks. This was the basis on which they overcame their epidemic outbreak due to the Alpha variant. The UK was able to come out of it because the interval they kept was 12 weeks. We also thought that this is a good idea, since there are fundamental scientific reasons to show that when interval is increased, adenovector vaccines give better response. Hence the decision was taken on May 13, to increase the interval to 12 to 16 weeks,” Arora told DD News according to a press release put out by PIB.

He added, “When NTAGI took this decision, we also decided that India will establish a vaccine tracking platform to assess not only the impact of the vaccination programme, but also type of vaccine and interval between doses, and what happens when someone is fully or partially immunized. This is very important in India since around 17 to 18 crore people have received only one dose, while around 4 crore people have received two doses.”

Arora added that any further decision to change the gap between the two Covishield doses will be taken purely based on scientific evidence. “Tomorrow, if the vaccine platform tells us that a narrower interval is better for our people, even if the benefit is 5% to 10%, the committee will take the decision on the basis of merit and its wisdom. On the other hand, if it turns out that the current decision is fine, we will continue with it,” he said.

The government had on May 13 said it has accepted the COVID-19 Working Group’s recommendation and extended the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.

“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 May 12, 2021,” the Health Minister had said.

Explaining the reason behind the extension, Paul had said at a press conference that it was a science-based decision taken on the recommendations of the NTAGI.

“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 (to 12 weeks). So in good faith, based on their capability, without any pressures, they increased the dosage interval to 4 to 8 weeks. The issue was reviewed periodically again and again,” he had said.

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