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Explained: Why a French advisory body has suggested delaying the second Covid-19 shot

France has started its vaccination with older people and healthcare workers, and under the current protocol, there is a gap of three weeks between the two shots for people in retirement homes, and four weeks for healthcare workers.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 30, 2021 10:53:59 am
Nurse Coralie Ferron prepares a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Le Cannet, southern France, Thursday Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo: Daniel Cole)

The top health advisory body in France, the Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS), on Saturday (January 23) recommended that the length of time between administering the first and second shots of the vaccine against the novel coronavirus should be doubled, media reports said.

France has started its vaccination with older people and healthcare workers, and under the current protocol, there is a gap of three weeks between the two shots for people in retirement homes, and four weeks for healthcare workers.

The authorities now want the gap to be extended to six weeks.

How will increasing the gap between the doses help?

The priority of the French authorities seems to be to quickly inoculate as many individuals as possible.

The HAS has said that increasing the gap between the first and second shots would allow at least 7 lakh more people to be vaccinated in the first month of the inoculation programme, Reuters reported.

France is using both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

“The growing number of infections and the worrying arrival of new variants call for an acceleration of the vaccination campaign in order to prevent the epidemic from spiking in coming weeks,” the HAS said in a statement, according to the Reuters report.

So is there a shortage of vaccines in France?

A scarcity has been reported in several countries. The advice of HAS — which is an independent body whose recommendations are not binding on the government — suggests a policy debate in France over how best to use supplies that are not abundant.

The New York Times reported a similar shortage in the United States, giving examples from states including Texas, South Carolina, and California.

“All of a sudden the distribution of vaccines stopped,” The New York Times quoted Dr Esmaeil Porsa, chief executive of the Houston-based Harris Health System, which runs hospitals and clinics in Harris County in Texas, as saying.

“It’s perplexing and frustrating because I keep hearing that there are high percentages of vaccines that have been distributed but not administered,” the report quoted Dr Porsa as saying.

The New York Times report gave examples of vaccine shortages in various parts of the US.

In Beaufort, South Carolina, a hospital had had to cancel 6,000 appointments after it received only 450 doses of the vaccine, the report said. In Maui, Hawaii, a hospital had to cancel 5,000 first-dose appointments and defer 15,000 requests for appointments. The San Francisco public health department feared it would run out of vaccines after its allocation fell sharply, and in Erie County in New York State, “thousands” of vaccine appointments were cancelled in recent days, The NYT report said.

But can’t just one shot of the vaccine do the trick?

No. All the three major vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford-AstraZeneca, need two doses to be able to extend full protection.

As part of its advice, the French HAS underlined that it was essential for everyone to get a second shot, the Reuters report said.

The World Health Organisation said this month that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be administered within 21-28 days.

Can extending the gap between the doses impact efficacy?

Several countries are considering ways to stretch scarce supplies by delaying dosing intervals or reducing dose sizes, the Reuters report said.

Pfizer-BioNTech have said there is no evidence that the vaccine would continue to protect against the novel coronavirus if the second dose is given more than 21 days after the first.

In the UK, regulators have said that shots can be administered up to 12 weeks apart — however, a group of British doctors have written to England’s chief medical officer to cut the gap between doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to six weeks, the Reuters report said.

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Does India have enough supplies of the vaccine?

As of now, yes. In fact, India’s current concern is a degree of vaccine hesitancy, which has manifested itself in a certain reluctance to take the shots.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine-maker, which is manufacturing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for India and several other countries under licence, has repeatedly stressed that there will be no shortage of doses of Covishield.

Besides, the supply of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is likely to gather pace soon. The government has assured that there will be several vaccines available to the Indian people by the summer.

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