In a major embarrassment to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the chief of AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine clinical trials has backed the Modi government’s decision to increase the gap between the 12-16 weeks gap between the two doses of Covishield in the country.
Based on the additional data, particularly real-life experiences in the UK showing increased advantage with a higher interval between shots, the union government in May had decided to extend the gap between two doses of Covishield vaccines. Accordingly, the gap between Covishield doses, developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford University and manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, was changed from the earlier six to eight weeks.
In response to the government’s decision, on June 14, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had taken to Twitter to attack the government over its recent decision to extend the gap between two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks from six to eight weeks.
Attacking the Modi government, the Gandhi-scion had claimed that India needed quick and complete vaccination and “not the BJP’s brand of lies and rhyming slogans” to cover up the vaccine shortage caused by the government’s inaction.
“India needs quick and complete vaccination- not BJP’s usual brand of lies and rhyming slogans to cover-up vaccine shortage caused by Modi Government’s inaction. GOI’s constant attempts to save PM’s fake image are facilitating the virus and costing people’s lives,” the Congress leader said on Twitter.
Gandhi had also attached a news report that claimed the government doubled the gap between the two doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine without the agreement of the scientific group that it said had recommended the increase.
In response to Rahul Gandhi’s misleading claims, Union Health Minister had launched a scathing attack against the Congress MP, accusing him of making mythical claims without checking any facts. In a sharp retort, Mr Vardhan said, “Signor @RahulGandhi continues to remain lost in a mythical land furthering mythical claims without checking any facts! Protecting family’s name and crown is @INCIndia’s business.”
“GoI is dedicated to serving the people and safeguarding lives and livelihoods during this pandemic,” he added.
Record of Minutes of meetings of #COVID19 Working Group & Standing Technical Sub-Committee of NTAGI clearly show that decision to recommend gap of 12-16 weeks between administering 2 doses of #COVISHIELD was taken unanimously…https://t.co/hZzSws2Kkh@PMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/nuzRUvyToB— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) June 16, 2021
The Health Minister categorically stated that the decision to increase the gap between administering two doses of Covishield was taken in a transparent manner based on scientific data, contrary to the claims of Rahul Gandhi.
AstraZeneca chief investigator of trials backs Modi govt on the increasing gap between two doses
Two days after the Government of India defended its move to increase the gap between two doses of AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine, the chief investigator of the AstraZeneca vaccine clinical trials has backed the Indian government decision saying that the level of protection provided by one dose of the preventive significantly increases in the second and third months after the jab.
In an interview, Professor Andrew Pollard said the immunisation policy in Britain and India should not be compared because of the different circumstances in the two countries.
“An immunization policy that aims to vaccinate the largest number of people in the quickest possible time with at least one dose makes sense in the present circumstances in India,” Pollard, who is also the Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said.
Andrew Pollard, who is also Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at Oxford University in the UK, noted that AstraZeneca is not working on a single-dose vaccine. Two doses are needed and one may be good but the second is needed to boost protection, the scientist added.
The UK-based scientist said they are not planning or working on a booster or a third jab, saying it may not be “necessary” currently.
Situation in India and United Kingdom are different, says AstraZeneca scientist
Explaining the rationale behind the need for an increased gap between two Covid-19 vaccine doses, Pollard said that in a situation of vaccine shortage, it makes sense to ensure a measure of protection for the widest number of people rather than provide a better level of protection for a smaller number of people.
He explained this by saying that one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, provides above 70 per cent protection against serious illness and hospitalisation, which has to be the main concern.
“One should not be deterred or deflected by the fact that one dose provides only 30 per cent protection against symptomatic illness,” the scientist said. “What we need to focus on is a high level of continuing protection against serious illness and hospitalisation,” Pollard said.
Referring to the UK reducing its Covishield doses gap just as India increased its, Pollard said that Britain reduced the gap after inoculating a substantial proportion of its population.
“In India, the converse is the case. The vast majority of people are unvaccinated and unprotected. Therefore, you need to ensure that as many as possible are protected against serious illness and hospitalisation, even if that means a large number will have lower levels of protection against symptomatic infection,” the scientist explained.
Till Friday, India has administered a cumulative number of 26,89,60,399 (26.89crore) Covid-19 vaccine. The country is currently administering three Covid-19 vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Serum Institute-AstraZeneca manufactured Covishield and Russian vaccine Sputnik-V.