The Kerala High Court today ordered the Centre to allow a second dose of Covishield after a four-week gap instead of 12. The government was also asked to make changes to the CoWIN app to enable a reduced dose gap for "those who want it".
The order is for vaccines from private sources, not free shots given by the government. The court said the question was whether for private vaccinations, people could choose between "early protection or better protection".
"It is, however, made clear that I have not considered the question whether a person is entitled to make a choice between early protection and better protection from the Covid infection in the matter of accepting the free vaccine provided by the government," the Kerala High Court said.
"The interesting question that arises for consideration in this matter is whether a person covered by the National COVID Vaccination Program is entitled to make a choice between early protection and better protection from Covid in the matter of accepting paid vaccine."
The dose gap for Serum Institute of India's vaccine Covishield, the Indian version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, was four to six weeks when nationwide vaccinations started in January. This was increased to six-eight weeks. In May, the government revised the dose gap to 12 to 16 weeks citing "real life evidence from the UK". The gap for the second vaccine to be used in India, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, stayed unchanged.
The decision was questioned and many linked it to the massive shortage in vaccines when the second wave of Covid was at its peak in April-May. Some members of the national Covid task force also suggested the decision was not unanimous and that they had opposed doubling the dose gap.
The petitioners in this case are two companies - Kitex Garments and Kitex Childrenswear - with more than 10,000 employees. The companies say to protect workers and their families, they decided to vaccinate them without waiting for the government, and bought vaccines for Rs.52,30,680. The companies bought 12,000 more doses to give the second dose to employees.
Pointing out that the dose gap policy has changed twice since then, the companies told the court that because of the need to register for vaccination on CoWIN, they were unable to administer the second dose of the vaccine to their staff.
The petition pointed out that the Centre has relaxed the dose gap for students and others flying abroad and for sportspersons participating in the Olympics. The "privilege" was also extended to government officials, it said.
Kerala is battling a surge in Covid cases. The state is expecting daily cases to increase to up to 40,000 in the coming weeks.