New Delhi, May 13:

The Centre on Thursday approved extending the gap between the first and second dose of the Covishield vaccine to 12-16 weeks following recommendations by an expert panel. The current gap between two doses of the vaccine is 6-8 weeks.

Earlier in the day, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization had recommended the same to the Centre. No changes, however, have been made to the interval of Covaxin.

The panel also said that pregnant women can choose their vaccine and lactating women will be eligible after delivery. Currently neither is eligible to get the shots.

The panel also stated that those having laboratory test proven SARS-CoV-2 illness should defer Covid-19 vaccination for six months after recovery.

According to the Union Health Ministry’s current protocol, vaccine is to be taken four to eight weeks after recovery from Covid-19 infection and pregnant and lactating women are not to be administered the shots.

These recommendations will be sent to NEGVA – the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration – for approval before they are implemented.

“Based on the available real life evidence particularly from the UK, the Covid-19 working group agreed for increasing the dosing interval to 12-16 weeks between two doses of Covishield vaccine. No change in interval of Covaxin vaccine doses was recommended,” sources said.

This is the second time in three months that Covishield dosage intervals have been widened. In March, states and UTs were told to increase the gap from 28 days to six-eight weeks “for better results”.

The panel also rejected the proposal for routinely screening all vaccine recipients with rapid antigen testing prior to Covid vaccination.

The changes prompted a sarcastic swipe from Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who flagged the ever-widening recommended interval between doses.

“First, it was four weeks for the second dose, then six-eight weeks and now we are told 12-16 weeks. Is this because there are not enough stocks of vaccines… or because professional scientific advice says so?” he asked.