The Indian government has doubled the gap between the two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine without the agreement of the scientific group that said it recommended the increase, three members of the Reuters news agency reported. advisory body.
The health ministry announced the decision to change the gap from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks on May 13, at a time when shooting supplies were not reaching demand and infections were rising across the country.
The ministry said the National Technical Group on Vaccination Advice (NTAGI) recommended widening the gap, based on actual evidence, mainly from the UK.
However, NTAGI scientists, classified by the government as three of the 14 “core members,” said the body did not have enough data to make that recommendation.
MD Gupte, former director of the state-run National Institute of Epidemiology, said the NTAGI had supported increasing the dosing interval to 8-12 weeks, the gap advised by the World Health Organization. health.
But he added that the group had no data on the effects of a gap of more than 12 weeks.
“Eight to twelve weeks is something we have all accepted, 12 to 16 weeks is something the government has come out with,” he added.
“It simply came to our notice then. We have no information about it. “
This was echoed by his fellow NTAGI, Mathew Varghese, who said the group’s recommendation was only 8 to 12 weeks.
The health ministry, citing the head of the NTAGI working group on COVID-19, said the dosing decision was based on scientific evidence.
“There were no dissenting voices among NTAGI members,” the ministry said on Twitter.
The ministry statement on May 13 he said he had accepted the 12- to 16-week recommendation of NTAGI’s COVID working group, as did a group of government officials primarily in charge of vaccine administration, known as NEGVAC.
Government health officials said at a news conference on May 15 that the gap was not widened to address vaccine shortages, but was a “scientific decision.”
JP Muliyil, a member of the seven COVID working group, said there had been discussions within the NTAGI about increasing the vaccine dosing interval, but that the body had not recommended it between 12 and 16 weeks.
“That specific number was not cited,” he said, without detailing it.
NK Arora, head of the COVID working group, declined to comment to Reuters on its recommendations, but said all its decisions were taken collectively by NTAGI.
A NEGVAC representative said he “respects NTAGI’s decisions and uses them for our work,” while refusing to draft them.
Real-world data released earlier this month by South Korea showed that a dose of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines was 86.6% effective in preventing infections in people 60 years of age or older.
Muliyil said this increased the advisory body’s confidence that delaying a second shot would not be detrimental.
The AstraZeneca vaccine accounts for almost 90% of the 257.5 million doses administered in India.
The dispute over the doses came amid criticism from some scientists that the government had taken a long time to respond to a new variant of the virus that caused an increase in infections in April and May.
The government has denied reacting slowly, saying state labs have studied variants in real time and shared data with local authorities to allow them to take the necessary action.
Shahid Jameel, a leading Indian virologist who recently left a government group on virus variants after criticizing New Delhi for its response to the pandemic, said authorities should clarify their position on the reasons for the decision. to double the difference between doses.
“In a situation where we have a variant of concern, we should vaccinate people on a large scale and make sure they are protected,” he added.