NEW DELHI: Two days after the Centre approved extending the gap between two doses of the
vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks, many people in the 45+ age group who had booked their second dose on the
portal got a rude shock. They were turned away from vaccination centres across the city on Saturday. They had no inkling of the change and the CoWin portal didn’t in any way reflect it.
Arguments broke out at the vaccination centres with people who had completed 42-56 days after the first dose claiming they had not received any message or mail and should be allowed the second dose. The civil defence volunteers and other officials had a hard time convincing them that they had to go back.
Dilpreet Kaur, a 65-year-old resident of Lajpat Nagar, whose daughter in the US had booked a slot for her, was quite distressed that she would now have to wait for almost a month for the second dose. She said senior citizens, especially those like her who stay alone, should have been allowed to take their second shot.
The change has been brought about following a recommendation by the Covid Working Group, chaired by Dr N K Arora, which had been accepted by the
National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration
for Covid-19. It is based on the experience of the United Kingdom.
Ambiguity over whether this was only an advisory ended when people turned up at the vaccination centres on Saturday morning. They were told that they would get the second dose only after they completed at least 12 weeks (84 days). The orders from the central government seemed to have travelled to the Delhi government with lightning speed, bypassing the CoWin portal. It showed no change in the status of people, including many elderly citizens, who had found a slot with great difficulty, travelled some distance and stood in queue.
The Delhi government has been asked by the Centre to ensure that the second dose of Covishield is given at an interval of 12 to 16 weeks. This has been conveyed in a letter written to the chief secretary of all states and Union territories by the secretary, ministry of health & family welfare, Rajesh Bhushan. An immunisation officer in Delhi said officials and vaccinators have been asked to ensure adherence to the revised dosing interval.
Civil defence officer Pratham Raj, posted at a
vaccination centre, told TOI around noon that they had received the new guidelines in the morning and had since then with great difficulty turned away almost 50 senior citizens. School teacher Sonia Monga on duty at the centre said many complained of not receiving any prior intimation and insisted on being administered the second dose. Monga, whose job is to key in the data and issue certificates to those who are vaccinated, said they tried their best to explain to people that the website was no longer accepting entries for the second dose below 84 days. However, for those who had booked a slot, the booking was still very much there.
The ensuing confusion caused delays and long queues. Businessman
said this was his third day in a row at the centre. His wife explained that on the past two days, the centre had run out of vaccines and now they were being told that the guidelines have changed. "Getting a vaccination slot on CoWin is next to impossible. When we finally managed a slot for the second dose, we are being turned away. We should have at least received a message. So many senior citizens have risked driving to a vaccination centre during the pandemic and this could have been easily avoided," said Sinha.
Across the city, at the state government-run Deep Chand Bandhu Hospital in north Delhi’s Ashok Vihar, retired defence scientist Manabendra Nath Sen, 81, and his wife, Sikha Sen, 74, had landed up for their second dose of Covishield which they had booked a week in advance.
"We had taken the first shot on March 24. A seven-week gap between doses seemed like a good idea to enable us to stay immune for a reasonably long time, going by what we had read," said Sikha. Before setting out, they had rechecked on the CoWin portal. It showed the appointment. However, at the hospital, they were told they could get the second shot only after three months from the date of the first dose.
"Now, my parents will have to wait till June 25 to become fully vaccinated. That's a long time. The least the government could have done was to send us a text message alerting us about the cancellation. The portal continued to show that the appointment was on even after we were turned back," said the couple's daughter, Jhilli Sen.
Jhilli herself had taken the first jab of Covishield on April 1. Till Saturday night, the CoWin portal showed that her second shot was due from May 13 onwards. According to the revised rules, she would be eligible for the shot only after July 1. However, for those given the first dose on Saturday, the CoWin portal clearly indicated that the second dose could be given only after 84 days.
National Health Authority
, R S Sharma told TOI that the change will get reflected on the CoWin portal from Saturday night. "Our advice to the states is that further on-site and online appointments will be with the new minimum period of 84 days. Those who have already booked an appointment for the second dose and the interval is less than 84 days will also be advised to book again. However, if they insist, they will be vaccinated," said Sharma. That assurance will need to be put to test now.