The Centre on Monday instructed all states and Union Territories to increase the interval between two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, to four to eight weeks. The current gap between two doses is four to six weeks.

The revised time interval, however, is only applicable to the Covishield vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and not Covaxin, which is produced by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, the Centre said. India is currently using only these two vaccines for its inoculation programme.

The decision, conveyed to states and Union Territories through a letter by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, was based on the feedback received from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and subsequently, by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19, the Centre said.

“In view of the emerging scientific evidence, the interval between two doses of a specific Covid-19 vaccine i.e. COVISHIELD, has been revisited by National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) and subsequently by National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) in its 20th meeting,” it said. “During this meeting the recommendation has been revised to provide 2nd dose of Covishield at 4-8 weeks’ interval after the first dose, instead of earlier practiced interval of 4-6 weeks. This decision of revised time interval between two doses is applicable ONLY to COVISHIELD and NOT to COVAXIN Vaccine.”

The Centre cited emerging medical evidence and said it appeared that “protection is enhanced if the second dose of Covishield is administered between 6-8 weeks, but not later than stipulated period of 8 weeks”.

Based on these observations, it added, “Government of India has accepted the recommendations of NTAGI and NEGVAC and has thereafter advised the States and UTs to ensure the administration of 2nd dose of COVISHIELD to beneficiaries within this stipulated time interval of 4-8 weeks after 1st dose.”

The Centre further urged all states and Union Territories to instruct the concerned officials accordingly to ensure all programme managers, vaccinators and recipients of Covishield vaccine, are informed about the revised dosing interval.

On March 4, Germany, while approving the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on those over 65, had also recommended extending to a maximum 12 weeks the period between receiving the first and second doses. The country’s health body cited studies showing a longer gap improved its efficacy.

The new directions for India came as the country proceeds with the second phase of its nationwide vaccination drive, in which people above 60 and those over 45 with other illnesses are being inoculated. The country has also so far administered 4,50,65,998 Covid-19 vaccine shots with 4,62,157 doses given on Sunday.

Gripped by a second wave of infections, some states are seeking to accelerate the vaccination drive to include younger people. On Monday, India registered 46,951 daily infections, the highest one-jump in coronavirus cases since November 7. With this, India’s tally rose to 1,16,46,081. The toll climbed by 212 to 1,59,967. This is the highest in 72 days.

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