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India extends interval between vaccine doses amid shortage

NEW DELHI India recorded more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths for a second straight day yesterday as infections stayed below 400,000.

The country also extended the interval between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to up to 16 weeks amid a dire shortage of shots in the country.

India had 362,727 new Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours while deaths climbed by 4,120.

Although it is the world's largest vaccine producer, India has run low on stocks in the face of huge demand.

As of yesterday, it had fully vaccinated just over 38.2 million people, or about 2.8 per cent of a population of about 1.35 billion.

The Health Ministry yesterday accepted a recommendation by a government panel to extend the gap between the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute of India to 12 to 16 weeks, from six to eight weeks currently.

The recommendation, aided in part by evidence from Britain, comes as India faces extreme shortage of vaccines.

Two states - Karnataka, which includes tech hub Bengaluru, and Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai - have announced they will suspend vaccination for people aged 18 to 44 as they prioritise those over 45 who need their second dose.

At least two Indian states have said they plan to dose their populations with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to protect against severe infections as their hospitals are overrun.

WARNING

The moves by Goa and Uttarakhand come despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning against such measures.

"The current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat patients is inconclusive," WHO said in late March.

"Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug be used only within clinical trials."

Merck, a manufacturer of the drug, has also said that available data does not support using the drug as a treatment for Covid-19. - REUTERS

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