The chief of Serum Institute of India (SII) that manufactures Covishield, Adar Poonawalla, said the government’s move to increase the gap between two doses of the anti-Coronavirus vaccine to 12 to 16 weeks was a good scientific decision. The Union Health Ministry said on Thursday it agreed to extend the gap between the two shots of Covishield from the current six to eight weeks was taken following recommendations of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI).
According to a report in NDTV, Poonawalla said this is beneficial both from the efficacy and the immunogenicity standpoint. “This is a very good move because this is based on data that the government received on the basis of which they made a good scientific decision to increase the gap,” the SII CEO was quoted as saying.
The recommendation of the COVID Working Group was accepted by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), headed by Dr VK Paul, Member (Health) Niti Aayog, in its meeting on Wednesday. However, no change has been suggested for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, whose gap between the two doses stands at four to six 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,” a government statement said.
The government expert panel had also recommended those testing positive for coronavirus to defer vaccination for six months after recovery.
The recommended interval between the two doses of Covishield, manufactured by Pune-based SII, was increased from four-six weeks to six-eight weeks in April. Experts believe such a move could ease pressure on the vaccine’s supply chain at a time when India has decided to include all adults in its massive inoculation programme against the coronavirus disease.
In March, a study published in The Lancet journal said Covishield has an 81.3% efficacy if doses are administered 12 weeks apart. Researchers found Covishield’s efficacy to be just 55.1% when two standard doses were administered less than six weeks apart. If the interval is increased in India, it will help the country on two fronts.
First, it could ease the skyrocketing demand for vaccines. Secondly, if the rush for the second dose slows down, officials could focus on vaccinating more beneficiaries with the first dose, which gives some degree of protection before the second dose is administered.
The primary analysis of the Phase III clinical trials from the UK, Brazil and South Africa confirmed the vaccine is safe and effective, “with no severe cases and no hospitalisations, more than 22 days after the first dose”, AstraZeneca said on its website on February 3.