'Already booked online appointments for 2nd dose of Covishield will remain valid and are not being cancelled by COWIN,' says health ministry
The Centre on Sunday clarified that the slots already booked online for the second dose of Covishield will remain valid even after the recent extension of the gap between two doses to 12-16 weeks. The earlier gap between two doses of Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, is 6-8 weeks.
The clarification comes amid reports suggesting that people who had pre-booked their appointment for the second dose in less than 84 days on CoWIN are being turned back from vaccination centres without getting the second dose of Covishield.
"Already booked online appointments for 2nd dose of Covishield will remain valid and are not being cancelled by COWIN. Further, the beneficiaries are advised to reschedule their appointments for a later date beyond the 84th day from the date of 1st dose vaccination," the health ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also stated that the field staff may be instructed that if such beneficiaries do come for vaccination, the second Covishield dose must be administered and they must not be turned away. They have also been advised to undertake awareness activities to inform the beneficiaries about this change.
On 13 May, the government accepted the COVID-19 Working Group's recommendation for extending the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.
"Based on the available real-life evidences, particularly from the 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," the ministry said.
The Centre has reiterated to the States and UTs that the online appointments booked for 2nd dose of COVISHELD prior to this change of the interval between the two doses of Covishield, must be honoured.
"It is clarified that the requisite changes have now been done in the CoWIN digital portal. As a result, further online or on-site appointments will not be possible if the period after 1st dose date for a beneficiary is less than 84 days," it further said.
The COVID Working Group chaired by Dr N K Arora had recommended extension of the gap between the first and second doses of COVISHIELD vaccine to 12-16 weeks. This was been accepted by government on 13th May 2021.
However, no change has been suggested for the dosage interval for Covaxin, it said.
Earlier, Niti Aayog (health) member V K Paul, at a press conference, said that extending the gap between the vaccine’s two doses was a science-based decision taken on the recommendations of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI).
Explaining the reasons behind the extension, he said according to studies, initially the interval between two doses of Covishield was 4-6 weeks but then as more data became available, secondary analysis showed increasing the dosage interval to 4-8 weeks can have some advantage.
The UK by that time had already extended it to 12 weeks and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also had said the same, but many nations still did not change the dosage pattern, Paul said.
"At that time, our science-based technical committee anchored by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) along with the DBT (Department of Biotechnology) by looking at the data available 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," he said.
The issue was reviewed periodically again and again, Paul said. Now, based on the available real-life evidence, particularly from the UK, the decision to extend it from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks has been taken with confidence that there will not be an extra risk, he said, adding that this is a dynamic decision and part of a periodic review.
Underlining that NTAGI is a standing committee which was constituted much before COVID-19 had emerged and works on immunisation for children, Paul said, “It looks at scientific data and we must respect the decision of this institution."
"They make independent decisions. Have faith in our scientific processes. NTAGI is a group of individuals of high integrity," he said.
Asked if the efficacy of the vaccine will be affected with this extension, Paul said, "The efficacy is so good even after the single dose...it is not a problem at all."
On ensuring the extension of the gap between the two doses of Covishield, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan in a letter to states and union territories said, "I request you to kindly instruct the concerned officials to undertake necessary steps to widely disseminate the message of revised dosing interval amongst programme managers, vaccinators and recipients of Covishield vaccine and ensure adherence of revised dosing interval."
"Requisite changes are being carried out in the Co-WIN platform and would be separately communicated to the States/UTs. You are also requested to note that this decision of revised time interval between two doses is applicable only to Covishield and not to Covaxin vaccine," he said.
The COVID-19 Working Group is chaired by Dr N K Arora, who is director at the INCLEN Trust.
Its members comprise Dr Rakesh Agarwal, Director and Dean, JIPMER, Puducherry; Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore; Dr J P Mulliyal, former professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore; Dr Naveen Khanna, Group Leader, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), JNU, New Delhi; Dr Amulya Panda, Director, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi; and Dr V G Somani, Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).
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