The Indian government has doubled the gap between the two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine without the agreement of the scientific panel which it says recommended the increase, three members of the advisory body told the agency. Reuters press.
The Department of Health announced the decision to reduce the gap from 6 to 8 weeks to 12 to 16 weeks on May 13, at a time when vaccine stocks were below demand and infections were on the rise across the country. country.
The ministry said the extended gap was recommended by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NTAGI), based on actual evidence mainly from the UK.
Still, NTAGI scientists, ranked by the government as three of 14 “core members,” said the organization did not have enough data to make such a recommendation.
MD Gupte, former director of the state-run National Institute of Epidemiology, said NTAGI had supported increasing the dosing interval to 8-12 weeks – the gap advised by the Organization world health.
But he added that the group had no data regarding the effects of a gap beyond 12 weeks.
“Eight to 12 weeks is something we have all agreed to, 12 to 16 weeks is something the government has come up with,” he added.
“Maybe it’s good, maybe not. We have no information about it. “
This was echoed by his NTAGI colleague Mathew Varghese, who said the group’s recommendation was only valid for 8 to 12 weeks.
The Health Department, citing the head of NTAGI’s COVID-19 task force, said the dosage decision was based on scientific evidence.
“There was no dissenting voice among NTAGI members,” the ministry said on Twitter.
The Ministry declaration on May 13, said he had accepted the 12-16 week recommendation of NTAGI’s COVID task force, as did a group of primarily government officials responsible for administering vaccines, known as NEGVAC.
Government health officials told a press conference on May 15 that the gap was not widened to deal with a vaccine shortage but that it was a “scientific decision” .
JP Muliyil, a member of the seven-person COVID task force, said there had been discussions within NTAGI about increasing the dose interval of the vaccine but the body had not recommended 12 to 16 weeks.
“This specific number was not cited,” he said, without giving details.
NK Arora, the head of the COVID task force, declined to comment to Reuters on its recommendations, but said all of its decisions were made collectively by the NTAGI as a whole.
A NEGVAC representative said he “respects the decisions of NTAGI and uses them for our work”, declining to elaborate.
Actual data released early last month from South Korea showed that one dose of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines was 86.6% effective in preventing infections in people aged 60 and over.
Muliyil said that increased confidence in the advisory body that delaying a second shot would not be harmful.
The AstraZeneca vaccine accounts for almost 90 percent of the 257.5 million doses of vaccine administered in India.
The dose dispute came amid criticism from some scientists that the government had been slow to respond to a new variant of the virus that led to an increase in infections in April and May.
The government has denied being slow to respond, saying public labs have been studying variants in real time and sharing data with local authorities to enable them to take necessary action.
Shahid Jameel, a leading Indian virologist who recently left a government panel on viral variants after criticizing New Delhi for its response to the pandemic, said authorities should clarify their position on the reasons for the decision to double the ‘difference between doses.
“In a situation where we have a variant of concern that is spreading, we should really vaccinate people on a large scale and make sure they are protected,” he added.