The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the athletes, sportspersons and accompanying staff of the Indian contingent attending the Tokyo Olympics, students undertaking foreign travel for education and persons working abroad will be administered the second dose of the Covishield vaccine prior to the prescribed time interval (after 28 days but before 84 days). Presently, based on the recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NGVAC), the schedule of Covishield under the National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy is to administer the second dose at an interval of 12-16 weeks (after 84 days) from the date of administration of the first dose.
In a 380-page affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday in a suo motu matter on Covid management, the Centre has said the health ministry has received several representations from students as well as states such as Kerala regarding relaxations for the administration of the second dose of Covishield before the currently stipulated 84-day interval for students going abroad for higher studies. On May 31, the top court had slammed the Centre’s Covid vaccination policy, saying it is “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” to allow the states and private hospitals to charge those in the 18-44 age group while the jabs were offered for free in the first two phases of the nationwide inoculation drive, and ordered its review.
In the affidavit, the Centre said, “The various representations request for allowing the administration of the second dose of Covishield for such persons who have only taken the first dose and are seeking to undertake international travel for educational purposes or employment opportunities or as part of India’s contingent for the Tokyo Olympic games, but whose planned travel dates fall prior to the completion of the currently mandated minimum interval of 84 days from the date of the first dose.” The Centre said the matter was taken up at a meeting of the Empowered Group-5 (EG-5) on Covid vaccination, “which has recommended administration of second dose of Covishield prior to the prescribed time interval (after 28 days but before 84 days) to provide full coverage of vaccination and facilitating international travel”. It said this special dispensation will be available to “students who have to undertake foreign travel for the purposes of education, persons who have to take up jobs in foreign countries and athletes, sportspersons and accompanying staff of the Indian contingent attending the Olympic games to be held in Tokyo”.
The Centre submitted that the time interval between the two doses of Covishield under the vaccination drive has undergone a series of revisions based on the available and emerging scientific evidence under the overall guidance of the NEGVAC. “From four weeks at the start of the vaccination drive to a gap of six to eight weeks, currently, the interval between the first and the second dose of Covishield is 12-16 weeks in view of the emerging evidence documenting higher seroconversion and protection offered at a longer dose interval,” it said.
The Centre further said that the matter was discussed by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), which recommended increasing the interval between the two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks. It said the requisite facility on the Co-WIN portal for the administration of the second dose in such exceptional cases will be made available shortly and a separate standard operating procedure (SOP) has been issued for the administration of the second dose of Covishield prior to the prescribed time interval.
In the SOP, the Centre has advised that vaccination may be availed in such cases through the passport, which is one of the permissible ID documents according to the current guidelines, so that the passport number is printed on the vaccination certificate. “However, if passport was not used at the time of administration of the first dose, the details of the photo ID card used for vaccination will be printed on the vaccination certificate and a mention of the passport in the vaccination certificate is not to be insisted upon,” it has said.
It has further said that wherever necessary, the competent authority may issue another certificate linking the vaccination certificate with the beneficiary’s passport number. “This facility shall be available to those who need to undertake international travel for these specified purposes in the period up to August 31,” it said.
“This is to clarify that these SOPs have been issued specifically for Covishield because only the time interval between the two doses of Covishield has been increased from six-eight weeks to 12-16 weeks. The period for Covaxin has remained the same i.e four-six weeks and hence, there was no need for any special dispensation for the second dose of Covaxin. It is also clarified that complete vaccination with Covaxin is also sufficient for foreign travel,” the government has said. With regard to the vaccination of crematorium and panchayat workers, the Centre submitted that crematorium workers (regardless of their employment status of being permanent, contractual, outsourced or manpower working with a contractor with or without any designation), who are engaged in working in cremation grounds, and panchayat workers in rural areas involved in Covid control activities are already included in the “municipal workers group” under the “frontline workers category”.