Dr VK Paul, Member (health), Niti Aayog (File image: ANI)
The decision to increase the Covishield dose interval has nothing to do with vaccine crunch and such allegations are "saddening", said Dr VK Paul, member of Niti Aayog, the government's topmost think-tank, on May 15.
Dr Paul's response to the controversy comes two days after the Centre, based on an expert panel's recommendation, increased the gap between two doses of Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.
A number of critics questioned the move, asking whether the second dose has been delayed due to the shortage in COVID-19 vaccine supply.
Such narratives are "saddening", Dr Paul said. "I am pleading to all of you with folded hands to put these controversies to rest," Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.
Also Read | COVID-19 2nd Wave: Vaccine shortage shatters students' plans to study abroad
The decision was based on the recommendation of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), a government advisory group that works independently, the Niti Aayog member pointed out.
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 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, is already being administered in the UK at an interval of three months or 12 weeks. The increase in dosage interval led to an increase in efficacy, based on the real-life data emerging from the country, Dr Paul said.
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.
While the Indian government has increased the Covishield dose interval gap, the second vaccine being currently administered - Covaxin - would continue to be administered at a gap of four to six weeks.