P Chidambaram (File image)
Raising doubts over the government's decision to widen Covishield dose interval gap, former Union minister P Chidambaram on May 15 appealed to the Indian scientists to act cautiously and "independently". The senior Congress leader pointed out that the United Kingdom has decided to cut the dosage gap, particularly for beneficiaries aged above 50.
The UK, which was administrating the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine - known as Covishield in India - at a gap of three months, has now decided to administer the two doses at an interval of eight weeks.
"When the (Indian) government has increased gap between the first and second dose of the Covishield vaccine to 12-16 weeks, the UK is announcing that they are going back to the gap of eight weeks, at least for people over the age of 50," he told news agency ANI.
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"I'm not competent to second guess the scientists and medical experts but my humble appeal to them is please don’t play the game of the government. The government is laying a trap in which scientists and medical experts will fall, and the government will pass the blame on them," Chidambaram said.
"Please make up your mind and speak the truth irrespective of the government what's from you to say or the government says independently," he further added.
The two doses of Covishield, the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), was earlier administered at a gap of four to six weeks. This was increased to six to eight weeks in March, and following the latest revision, the gap has been extended to 12-16 weeks.
The Union Health Ministry cited the recommendation of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), a top advisory body, while announcing the increase in dosage interval gap on May 13.
The recommendation was tabled before the Dr NK Arora-chaired COVID-19 Working Group - which agreed with it based on the available real-life evidence in the UK, the Health Ministry had stated.
The NTAGI's suggestion to increase the gap interval also came a couple of months after a study, published in The Lancet in March, claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (manufactured and marketed as Covishield in India) can provide 81.3 percent efficacy if doses are administered at 12 weeks apart.
Questions, however, are being raised at the Indian government's move as the National Health Service (NHS) - the UK's top health agency - announced on May 14 that it is moving back to the eight-week gap for administrating the two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision was taken after reviewing the threat posed by B.1.617 variant of coronavirus, also known as the double mutant. This variant is considered to be responsible for the recent spike in coronavirus cases in India.
Dr VK Paul, Member of Niti Aayog, has defended the decision to widen the gap in India. At a press conference on May 15, the top government advisor reiterated that the "real-life evidence" emerging from the UK proves that the Covishield vaccine is more effective when the dosage interval gap is increased to 12-16 weeks.