NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's main opposition party, Congress, on Wednesday questioned the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to double the gap between the doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, asking whether it was prompted by a vaccine shortage.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the government had increased the gap without the agreement of the scientific group that it said recommended the move, citing three members of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) advisory body.
Congress leaders, including former party president Rahul Gandhi, said the government was trying to cover up a vaccine shortage.
"India needs quick & complete vaccination," Gandhi said in a tweet.
The AstraZeneca shot accounts for nearly 90% of the 257.5 million vaccine doses administered in India, where some states have curtailed vaccination programmes over supply constraints.
The government said that the gap was increased based on scientific evidence and that the issue had been discussed in detail by members of NTAGI as well as its working group on COVID-19.
"We have a very open and transparent system where decisions are taken on scientific basis," said N.K. Arora, chairman of the working group, according to a government statement on Wednesday.
Arora said that the decision to expand the gap to up to 16 weeks had been made to provide "flexibility" for those who may not be able to get the second dose at 12 weeks.
But NTAGI members told Reuters that the group had no data concerning the effects of a gap beyond 12 weeks, and Arora also did not cite such a study in Wednesday's statement from the federal health ministry.
India's health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said that India has a robust mechanism to evaluate data, reiterating that the decision to increase the gap was based on science.
"It's unfortunate that such an important issue is being politicised!" he said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Gerry Doyle)