Dramatically ramping up the COVID-19 vaccination drive is key to ending the crisis in India and extending the gap between two doses of Covishield is a "reasonable approach," White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
"When you are in a very difficult situation, the way you are in India, you have to try and figure out ways to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you can, so I believe that it is a reasonable approach to do," Dr. Fauci said.
On Thursday, the Government of India announced that the gap between the first and second doses of the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine has been increased to 12-16 weeks - from the existing 6-8 weeks. This is for the second time in three months that Covishield dosage intervals have been widened and this move has once again garnered criticism, as a cover-up for not having enough vaccines for the people in India. However, Dr. Fauci said that this "extended interval" is beneficial even from the efficacy standpoint.
"The fact that you delay it that long, it is very unlikely that it would hurt the efficacy of the vaccine. I would not refer to it as a cover-up when you don't have enough vaccines," Dr. Fauci said.
India is most likely to roll out Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus to be administered to citizens starting next week. With this, India will now have three vaccines to boost its mega vaccination drive which was recently opened for those above 18 years. When asked about the efficacy of the Sputnik V Vaccine, "I've heard about the Sputnik, is that it seems to be quite efficacious, at a high level of close to 90 percent or so," Dr. Fauci responded.
Last year, when the US was battling with the surge of COVID-19 cases, the Department of Defense docked two naval warships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort on the coasts of New York and Los Angeles to step up the efforts in combating the virus.
Dr. Fauci, one of COVID's most trusted names, suggests that India should step up the role of the armed forces in combating COVID-19.
"You can use the military sometimes to get things done quickly that you otherwise in the private sector would not be able to, for example, I know that there's a shortage of hospital beds right now that people who need to be in a hospital or not getting into a hospital because of the shortage of the beds, you can get the military to put up field hospitals, the same way they would during the time of war, that could serve as a substitute for the classic hospital." Dr. Fauci said.
While replying to a query on resuming travel to India amid the pandemic, Dr. Fauci said, "It is going to depend on the level of infection right now. India has a very very high level of infection. And that would mean that it would be very very difficult to resume travel there right now."
As more people around the world become vaccinated and the summer travel season is approaching, countries around the world are scrambling to get digital health certification programs or Vaccine passports in place.
However, Dr. Fauci says that US borders will not have the vaccine passport mandate. "Several of the airlines may say you're not going to be able to fly on our flight, unless you have a verification that you've been vaccinated, in essence- a vaccine passport, but again to repeat that at least in the United State-that is not going to be mandated from a federal standpoint."
India is currently experiencing a devastating surge of COVID-19 with record-breaking cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The country's health care system is teetering on the edge of collapse as hospitals are overcrowded and much-needed medical supplies are in low supply.