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'Recommended increasing COVID-19 vaccine doses gap to 8-12 weeks, not 12-16,' say experts

The Union Health Ministry increased the gap between two doses of the jab in May from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks, citing a shortfall. The ministry further added this extension was recommended by the NTAGI

Centre doubled the gap between two doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, which accounts for around 90 per cent of the 25.75 crore vaccine doses administered in India so far, without approval from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) working group on COVID-19.  

The Union Health Ministry increased the gap between two doses of the jab in May from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks, citing a shortfall. The ministry further added this extension was recommended by the NTAGI. The ministry stated the decision on vaccine dosage gap was based on scientific evidence and tweeted, "There was no dissenting voices among the NTAGI members".

Former National Institute of Epidemiology director MD Gupte said the advisory group backed raising the dosage interval to 8-12 weeks, in keeping with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) advice.

Gupte noted the group did not have data or scientific evidence substantiating the effects of a gap beyond 12 weeks. "Eight to 12 weeks is something we all accepted, 12 to 16 weeks is something the government has come out with. This may be alright, may not be. We have no information on that," Gupte told Reuters.

On May 15, government officials had, however, said the interval between two doses was increased not due to shortage but it was a "scientific decision". A member of the COVID working group JP Muliyil also mentioned the discussions in the NTAGI over raising the gap between two vaccine doses. On the 12-16 week gap, Muliyil said, "That specific number was not quoted."

He said the data on AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines from South Korea increased confidence within the advisory group that there won't be any side effects if the second shot is delayed. The data from South Korea stated a single dose of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are 86.6 per cent effective in thwarting infections among people aged 60 years and above.

Many scientists including Shahid Jameel have criticised the government for its slow response to the new variant that caused a surge in infections between April and May. Jameel, who recently resigned from a government panel on COVID-19 variants, also said there needs to be clarity about the reasons behind the government's decision to double the gap between doses.

"In a situation where we have a variant of concern spreading, we should really be vaccinating people at scale and making sure that they are protected," Jameel added.

Edited by Mehak Agarwal; with Reuters inputs

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