Allow Covishield 2nd dose after 4 weeks: Kerala HC to Centre
The Kerala high court on Monday asked the Union government to allow the administration of the second dose of the Covishield vaccine after a gap of four weeks for those wishing to take the jab early, and willing to pay for it. It also asked the Union government to make necessary changes on the CoWin portal. The reduction in gap does not apply to those availing free vaccines under the government’s vaccination drive.
“The decision on increasing the gap was based on opinion of experts after reviewing all the relevant data from across the globe and what was observed locally. Experts in committees on immunisation keep reviewing data and developments to update guidelines and advisories,” said an official in the central government, on condition of anonymity.
The verdict came on a petition filed by Kitex Garments and Kitex Childrenswear, which last month questioned the long gap between two doses of vaccine. A single bench of Justice P B Suresh Kumar accepted the argument in the petition that if the Union and state governments can make exceptions for students travelling abroad and others (including sportspeople), the same privilege can be extended to others.
The verdict comes even as Kerala continues to see a raging second wave of infections. The seven-day average of daily new cases in the state was 28,632 on Sunday, 69% of the corresponding seven-day average for the country as a whole.
The two Kitex companies which bought vaccines for their employees, were unable to provide them a second dose after four weeks because of the government restriction.
The gap between two doses of Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, was increased from 4-6 weeks in January to 12-16 weeks in May. While the government cited scientific evidence for this, it was widely believed that the gap was also increased to account for a shortage of vaccines. The gap between two doses of the other vaccine widely administered in India, Covaxin, has stayed constant at 4-6 weeks.
The union government opposed the plea saying that 84-day gap between two doses of vaccine was related to efficacy and had nothing to do with the shortage of doses. It also cited the study of the national expert group on vaccination administration for Covid-19 to buttress its point. But the court said since both, union and state governments, were diluting the provision for a section it can’t be denied to others who are in need.
“The decision of the government in providing relaxation in the protocol regarding administration of the second dose of vaccine to certain classes of persons alone amounts to discrimination,” it ruled.
“If the government can permit who are intending to travel abroad to exercise a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid-19 infection, there is absolutely no reason why the same privilege shall not be extended to others who want early protection in connection with their employment and education, etc,” it said.
Kitex in its plea contended that it vaccinated around 5000 of its workforce with the first dose but unable to administer the second dose due to the prevailing restrictions. It sought judicial intervention to speed up the process in view of mounting cases in the state and cited recent relaxations allowed by the state and central governments.
Experts said that while the court has relaxed the gap for some people it doesn’t mean everyone will have to go for a second jab immediately. “A gap is always good. It gives extended immunity and many studies have proven it. I feel at least six-week gap is necessary for efficacy,” said public health experts Dr Padmanabha Shenoy.
Till Monday evening, India has vaccinated 163.9 million people with two doses of the vaccine and another 368.9 million with one. Together, that translates into 56.7% of the eligible population of 940 million (adults).