Three members of the advisory body told Reuters that the government of India doubled the gap between two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine without the approval of the scientific group that it said recommended the increase.
On May 13, the Ministry of Health had announced to change the gap from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks, at a time when infections kept rising and supplies of the shot were falling short of demand in the country.
The extended gap was put forward by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) based on real-life evidence from Britain largely. However, three of the 14 NTAGI scientists that were classified as ‘core members’ said the body did not have enough data to make a recommendation.
A former director of the state-owned medical research organization, M. D. Gupte, stated that the NTAGI had only backed to increase the dose interval to 8-12 weeks, which is the gap advised by the World Health Organization. The group had no data concerning the effects 12 week-plus gap, he continued.
His NTAGI colleague Matthew Varghese said the group had only recommended to increase the gap to 8-12 weeks as well.
In response, the Ministry of Health tweeted the dosing decision was based on scientific evidence.
NTAGI Chair Dr N K Arora: Decision regarding enhancing interval between two doses of #Covishield based on scientific evidence & taken in a transparent manner. There was no dissenting voice among the NTAGI members.@PMOIndia @drharshvardhan @PIB_India https://t.co/ANaOwkkSO7
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) June 15, 2021
On May 15, government health officials told in a news conference that the increased gap was a scientific decision and not an effect of vaccine shortage.
According to J. P. Muliyil, a member of the seven-strong COVID working group, said that the body had discussed within the NTAGI on increasing the interval but had not backed 12-16 weeks. Without elaborating, the member added, “The specific number was not quoted.”