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Govt’s vaccine policy shift: Defer doses for 3 months after recovery

The Union Health Ministry announced another significant change in policy: deferring the Covid-19 vaccination in four specific situations.

FOUR MONTHS after its issued guidelines to states saying lactating women should not receive Covid-19 vaccines, the Health Ministry, in a shift in policy, on Wednesday announced that Covid-19 vaccination is recommended for all lactating women.

The Union Health Ministry announced another significant change in policy: deferring the Covid-19 vaccination in four specific situations.

First, the Ministry said, individuals with lab tests proven SARS-2 COVID-19 illness — that is, those who have tested positive for the virus — should defer their vaccination by three months after recovery. The Centre’s earlier guidelines had recommended deferment for only 4-8 weeks after recovery.

Second, it said, Covid patients who have been given anti-SARS-2 monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma during the Covid-19 treatment, shall also defer their vaccination by three months from the date of discharge from hospital. For this category too, the earlier recommendation was for the vaccination to be deferred for 4-8 weeks after recovery.

With a significant proportion of breakthrough cases in the population — those reporting Covid-19 infection after their vaccination — the Ministry has recommended that in such cases, the individuals defer the second dose. “Individuals who have received at least the 1st dose and got Covid-19 infection before completion of the dosing schedule: the 2nd dose should be deferred by 3 months after clinical recovery from Covid-19 illness,” the Ministry said.

The Ministry further recommended that any persons with “any other serious general illness” requiring hospitalisation or Intensive Care Unit care should also wait for 4-8 weeks before getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

The Ministry said recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), headed by Dr V K Paul, have been “based on the evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging global scientific evidence & experience”.

The decision to open up Covid-19 vaccination for all lactating women is significant. On January 14, just days before the rollout, the Centre had communicated to all states that pregnant and lactating women have not been part of any Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial so far, “therefore, women who are pregnant or not sure of their pregnancy, and lactating women should not receive Covid-19 vaccine at this time”.

India’s decision to allow vaccination for lactating women is on the lines of the recommendation made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has said that Covid-19 vaccines are “thought not to be a risk to lactating people or their breastfeeding babies”.

CDC further pointed out that “recent reports” have shown that breastfeeding mothers who received Covid-19 mRNA vaccines have antibodies in their breast milk, which could help protect their babies. “More data are needed to determine what protection these antibodies may provide to the baby,” the CDC has recommended.

On Wednesday, while the Ministry said Covid-19 vaccination is recommended for all lactating women, on vaccinating pregnant women, “the matter is under discussion and further deliberation by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI)”.

On Wednesday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to all states to undertake necessary action for “effective execution” of the new recommendations.

In the same communication, Bhushan underlined to the states that “there is no requirement for screening of the vaccine recipients by Rapid Antigen Test” prior to Covid-19 vaccination.

Bhushan also said that an individual can donate blood after 14 days of either receipt of the Covid-19 vaccine or testing RT-PCR negative if suffering from Covid-19 infection.

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