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COVID-19 updates: Centre assures over 200 cr doses by Dec, increases gap between jabs; over 3.5 lakh cases today

Firstpost logoFirstpost 13-05-2021 FP Staff
a crowd of people: COVID-19 updates: Centre assures over 200 cr doses by Dec, increases gap between jabs; over 3.5 lakh cases today © Provided by Firstpost COVID-19 updates: Centre assures over 200 cr doses by Dec, increases gap between jabs; over 3.5 lakh cases today

The Central Government, facing flak over alleged shortage of vaccines, announced a slew of measures today to manage the distribution and availability of jabs, including increasing the gap between two Covishield doses, as well as allowing import of all WHO- and US FDA-approved vaccines to India.

The centre also said that it will make available over 200 crore doses of vaccine in five months between August and December, which should be enough to vaccinate the country's entire population.

Meanwhile, the NITI Aayog informed the press on Thursday that limited stock of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine is likely to be available in the market by next week.

These announcements come amid several states reporting shortage of vaccines. Several states and UTs including Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana have decided to opt for global tenders for procurement of anti-coronavirus shots with the domestic supply falling short to meet the rising demand.

Meanwhile, India's daily coronavirus cases rose to 3,62,727 on Thursday, taking the COVID-19 tally to 2,37,03,665, while the death toll rose to 2,58,317 with 4,120 daily fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday.

Even though the Centre claimed that both the positivity rate and the number of new cases has been plateauing this week, 10 states still have a positivity rate of 25 percent or more while 12 states still have over one lakh active cases.

Also, as per the health ministry, 10 states -- Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan -- account for over 72 percent of new COVID-19 cases reported in a span of 24 hours.

Vaccine availability

Niti Ayog Member VK Paul said, "Two billion doses (216 crore) will be made in the country in five months for India and for people of India. Vaccine will be available for all as we move forward."  He also said that by the first quarter of the next year, the number is likely to be three billion.

He estimated that between August to December, production of 75 crore doses of Covishield is estimated, while 55 cores doses of Covaxin will be made available.

Further, Biological E is expected to produce 30 crore doses, Zydus Cadila 5 crore, Serum Institute of India 20 crore doses of Novavax, and Bharat Biotech 10 crore doses of its nasal vaccine, while Gennova will make available 6 crore doses and Sputnik V 15.6 crore doses.

The vaccine candidates of Biological E, Zydus Cadila, Gennova, Bharat Biotech's nasal vaccine are in various stages of clinical trials.

The government also stressed that any vaccine that is approved by the World Health Organisation or the Food and Drug Administration of US can be imported to India and can get an import license in two days.

On the procurement of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, Paul said the government is in touch with these firms through the Department of Biotechnology and the Ministry of External Affairs.

"We asked formally whether they would like to send doses to India, manufacture in India, we will find partners. They said they will talk about vaccine availability in Q3 (quarter 3). We have intensified this process with Moderna, Pfizer and J&J and we hope they will come forward," Paul said.

He said that so far 35.6 crore vaccine doses have been either procured or are in the process of procurement by the Centre.

Giving a detailed break-up, he said under the PM-Cares Fund, 6.6 crore (5.6 crore Covishield and 1 crore Covaxin) doses have been procured and utilised, while 1 crore Covishield doses have been received and utilised under the Gavi COXAV facility.

Under phase II, 12 crore (10 crore Covishield and 2 crore Covaxin) doses are being procured, he said, adding of these, 86 percent doses have been received while the rest are expected by the end of this month.

Under phase III, he said, 16 crore (11 crore Covishield and 5 crore Covaxin) doses are being procured. The supply for these doses will begin from 21 May and continue through July.

Separately, 16 crore additional doses are in the pipeline which are being procured directly by the states and private hospitals, he said. "So, overall, 51.6 crore doses are being procured."

What does increased gap between Covishield doses mean?

Centre accepted the recommendations of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to increase the gap between two doses of the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine to 12-16 weeks, up from the previous maximum of eight weeks. The time frame between Covaxin doses, however, has been left unchanged.

The government's decision has come at a time several states are struggling to roll out vaccination for the 18 to 44 age group as well as provide second dose to those already vaccinated.

The timing of the move has sparked suggestions the government is trying to minimise hospital admissions and deaths by giving as many people as possible at least one dose till supplies can be replenished.

However, widening of Covishield dosage intervals has also been linked to increased efficacy.

A study published in international medical journal The Lancet on 19 February claimed a 26.2 percent increase - from 55.1 percent to 81.3 per cent - if doses were spaced 12 or more weeks apart.

"A 3-month dose interval might have advantages over a programme with a short dose interval for roll-out of a pandemic vaccine to protect the largest number of individuals in the population as early as possible when supplies are scarce, while also improving protection after receiving a second dose," The Lancet study said.

Another study published in The BMJ delaying the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines among people younger than 65, could result in few people dying of the deadly virus 20 percent lower mortality, but only under certain conditions.

These conditions include one-dose vaccine effectiveness (efficacy) of 80 percent or higher and vaccination rates of 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent of the population per day, according to the study.

However, there is limited data available to suggest the exact efficacy of either covishield or covaxin after a single dose.

According to Astrazeneca, the company behind the development of covishield vaccine, results demonstrated vaccine efficacy of 76 percent (CI: 59% to 86%) after a first dose; this is lesser than the advised 80 percent or higher by the BMJ study. Similar data for India-made covaxin is not avaialble yet.

Dr Aju Mathew, epidemiologist, speaking to The News Minute on the subject said that one can only hypothesise on the efficacy of a single dose.

"There is no data or evidence to give us actual estimates of the immunogenicity of one dose of vaccine after prolonged interval. In clinical trials, the participants got the second dose four to twelve weeks later. But we know from previous vaccine experience like for the human papillomavirus vaccine, or certain other studies, that one dose is quite immunogenic by itself and protections may last longer than without it."

Furthermore, India's daily vaccination rate is also on the lower side of the 0.1 to 0.3 percent suggested in the BMJ study. India vaccinated close to 19 lakh people in the last 24 hours, which is 0.14 percent of its total population of over 136 crore.

According to Our World in Data, only 9.4 percent of India's population has been vaccinated (with at least one dose) in the 118 days since vaccination began.

Also, a report by India Today estimates that India will take 3.5 years at current rate to vaccinate 70 percent of its population, which is the threshold required to achieve herd immunity.

Meanwhile, The Lancet study also adds a caveat to delaying the second jab: the immunogenicity data used for these extrapolations was based on individuals who were aged 18–55 years. India's second dose recipients are mostly the elderly, who could be of any age above 45 (leaving out healthcare and frontline workers).

Bihar, Meghalaya, Maharashtra extend lockdown

As the second wave of rise in COVID-19 cases continue, three states — Bihar Meghalaya and Maharshtra — extended the ongoing lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma Thursday announced the extension of lockdown in the worst-affected East Khasi Hills district till 24 May. The decision to extend the lockdown for another week was taken following a review of the COVID-19 situation.

The state government on 8 May had extended the lockdown in East Khasi Hills district till 17 May.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar also announced the extension of the lockdown in the state till 25 May. Kumar made the announcement after chairing a high-

level-meeting, convened to take a decision on the lockdown, which was in place from 5 to 15 May.

The state has been rattled by explosive growth in its COVID-19 incidence since the beginning of April. During the period, its total caseload has risen by nearly three times and exceeded six lakh.

Maharashtra government also decided that lockdown-like restrictions will remain in place for the rest of the month. The curbs have been extended till 7 am on 1 June, according to the state government.

The state, which is India's worst-hit in terms of total number of cases, recorded less than 50,000 cases for the fifth day. On Thursday, it registered 42,582 fresh cases of coronavirus and 850 deaths which took the total tally in the state to 5,269,292 while the death toll reached 78,857.

Modi to interact with DMs of 100 high COVID-19 caseload districts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will interact with district magistrates of 100 districts with high caseloads of COVID-19 infections in two meetings on 18 and 20 May, government sources said on Thursday.

While DMs of 46 districts from nine states will be part of the first meeting, those from 54 districts from 10 states will attend the second meeting, they said, adding that respective chief ministers will be present in these interactions.

This will be the first such interaction that the prime minister will have with top district-level administrative officers on the COVID-19 situation.

So far, he has held a number of meetings with chief ministers from across the country and also, in some cases, from high caseload states on the pandemic situation since its first outbreak in 2020.

With inputs from PTI

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