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India’s Covaxin Shortage: How Long Will the Wait for 2nd Dose Be?

Lakhs of Indians are missing their timeline for second dose of Covaxin – due to acute shortage of jabs in states.

Updated
India
5 min read
Lakhs of Indians are missing their timeline for the second dose of Covaxin – due to acute shortage of jabs in states.
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On Monday, 24 May, the Delhi government temporarily shut down over 400 Covaxin vaccination sites due to the unavailability of jabs. Bhanu Jain, 58, who took her first Covaxin jab at a public health centre in North Delhi on 27 April, is one of the thousands of people affected by this decision. Her second jab was due 28 days later – on 25 May.

“My mother has diabetes, and we are extremely worried. I have been trying to book a slot for her second dose for the last one week but had no such luck. Even private hospitals are not providing Covaxin,” Bhanu’s daughter Gayatri told The Quint.

“What happens now? When will the stock come? The government must answer, instead of just saying no stock. What are they doing about it?”
Gayatri Jain, Resident of Delhi

In Bengaluru, despite securing appointments for their second jabs of Covaxin, many desperate people above the age of 45 are being turned away due to a shortage of stock. While Maharashtra is still providing the second shot of Covaxin, it has halted the inoculation drive for the 18-44 age group. Mumbai-based Priya Mallik (name changed), a 34-year-old state government employee, took her first jab on 5 May and is due to get her second in a few days.

“I have been stepping out for work every day. I have a toddler and elderly in-laws at home. Who gets to decide whether I am priority to be vaccinated or not? And when I get the second shot, what’s the guarantee that it is effective,” she asked.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief Dr Balram Bhargava recently said the decision to extend the gap between the two doses for Covishield – and not Covaxin – was determined by the effectiveness of the first dose of the vaccine.

“It has been seen that the first dose of Covishield results in a great deal of protection, which can stay around 12 weeks. But you do not achieve a similar kind of protection after the first dose of Covaxin. It is only after both the doses of Covaxin are administered, the protection reaches the optimum level,” Dr Bhargava said.

However, lakhs of Indians are missing their timeline for the second dose of Covaxin – due to acute shortage of jabs in their states – keeping them ‘less protected’ against the novel coronavirus. From Delhi to Karnataka, states are either halting or staggering the second dose of Covaxin, amid uncertainty over the next batch of supplies from Bharat Biotech.

So, What is the Covaxin Plan?

With lack of clarity on when they will receive the required jabs from Bharat Biotech, states are left to devise their own plans on how to handle their stock of Covaxin – and most of them are prioritising the above 45 cohort.

Telangana, home to Bharat Biotech, is also grappling with severe Covaxin shortage. While the state claims that it has over three lakh citizens for the second dose, it says it has only has 5,000 vials of Covaxin left.

The state has completely halted vaccination drive for all age groups, until it receives more jabs from the Centre, but has maintained that providing the second jab for those above 45 will be prioritised.

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Same is the case with Maharashtra. Around 1.5 million people above the age of 45 are eligible for their second dose of Covaxin in the state. But according to Health Minister Rajesh Tope on 20 May, the state barely had 35,000 doses of Covaxin.

Maharashtra, too, has halted vaccination for those aged 18-44, and is focusing on the second jab for the elderly.

The Karnataka government, in a formal press release, has said that second doses of Covaxin will be administered only to those who receive an SMS message informing them of the completion of a 4-6 week period for the booster dose.

“An SMS will be sent to beneficiaries due for a second dose. Beneficiaries should visit the designated vaccination centres mentioned in the SMS,” said the note from the state’s National Health Mission Director Dr Arundhati Chandrashekar.

The state is currently vaccinating only priority groups between 18 and 44 and everyone above 45.

A Delhi government official, who is working on the vaccination programme, said that once more Covaxin shots are in, vaccinating the above 45 cohort with the second jab will be given priority.

“We do not have clarity on when the next batch of vaccines will arrive. However, priority will be given to those who are above 45 and yet to receive their second dose of vaccine, as there is a lot of anxiety and confusion over it,” he told The Quint.

But when can those aged 18-44 expect to receive their second dose in these states? No one has an answer.

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How Long Can You Wait for the Second Dose of Covaxin? Experts Answer

How long can one wait to get their second shot of Covaxin?

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says that the second dose should be administered 28 days after the first dose. Experts agree that the second dose will be as effective any time between four and six weeks.

However, there is no data on the exact extended period that those who took Covaxin can wait for as such trials have not been conducted. 

But experts say it’s better to get the second dose – even if it is late.

“Right now, my advise to people would be to take to the vaccine as soon as they can get a slot. It must be stressed that irrespective of when the second shot is taken, it will be effective. This is because, immunologically, it is understood that when a person has received their first dose of vaccine, their immune system is activated,” explained epidemiologist Dr Chandrakant Lahariya in an earlier interview to FIT.

“This means the system will naturally mount a better response than a naïve immune system of someone who is not vaccinated,” he added.

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A leading public health expert and virologist, who did not want to be named, reiterated this, adding:

“When you get your first dose of vaccine – your immune system knows it. And, it will not forget it any time soon. So, even if you get your second shot six months later, it is bound to be a booster shot as your body already knows this from the first jab. So, you can repeat the first dose only if you are getting the second one after more than a year. Until then, your body is likely to remember it.”

However, he also urged that the ICMR or the health ministry should release a formal statement regarding delay in Covaxin jabs – so that state governments can plan ahead and people are aware of what to expect.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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