INDIA’s vaccination programme is over five months old, but the country has so far managed to fully inoculate only 3.5 per cent of its population, while around 15 per cent of the citizens have received at least one dose. With the second wave subsiding, various restrictions are being lifted. The resumption of ‘business as usual’ threatens to trigger a surge in infections unless the vaccination rate is improved drastically. Even as the pace of immunisation continues to be tardy, a controversy has erupted over the long gap between two doses of the Covishield vaccine. The Centre had on May 13 approved extending the gap from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks following a recommendation from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. The government had stated that the decision was based on data released by Public Health England, UK’s executive agency of the Department of Health, which showed that vaccine efficacy varied between 65 and 88 per cent when the dose interval was 12 weeks. However, recent reports have suggested that the Centre fixed such a wide interval despite lack of consensus. Under fire from the Opposition, the government is defending its decision, citing ‘scientific evidence’.
The UK, in contrast, has not only extended its lockdown by four weeks but also reduced the gap between vaccine doses, based on a new study by health experts which has established the effectiveness of two doses against variants. Having fully inoculated 45 per cent of its citizens, Britain is making rapid strides towards universal vaccination. India, which has borne the brunt of the second wave, can afford to remain a laggard only at its own peril.
A couple of studies by premier medical institutes of India have shown that there is little or no difference in the vaccine effectiveness whether a person has received one shot or two. More research is needed to buttress these findings as people are apprehensive that they are less protected if partially vaccinated. The studies in Britain are of serious import for Covishield usage. The government should factor in fresh evidence while taking a call on retaining or shortening the dose gap.
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