Is India Prepared For 3rd Covid Wave?

Indonesia now is in exactly the same terrible and tragic situation as India was during the peak of the second surge. Australia is going for a lockdown, and even New Zealand, hitherto totally safe, is on high alert. With cases rising in thousands every day, Boris Johnson might once again take the UK down the drain if he opens up the lockdown on July 19, even while all is not well in Catalonia/Barcelona in Spain, among other EU nations.

Vice President Kamala Harris led a ‘pride rally’ recently without a mask. Americans in many parts are allowed to come out in the open without masks. However, with 50 per cent fully vaccinated, is the virus really “on the run”, as President Joe Biden so proudly claimed on Independence Day, 4th of July?

There is reportedly a ‘silent surge’ in many parts of America and it is worrisome. It is being largely attributed to clusters of unvaccinated people, including Trump-supporters ‘in denial’. A Georgetown University study reportedly found 30 clusters of counties, of which five are across the Southeast and Midwest, from Georgia to Texas, across Missouri, and parts of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas, where the threat is real and looming large.

So how well is the Indian State with a new health minister at the helm prepared for the ‘third surge’, even as the second wave lingers on, and thousands care a damn in tourist spots, without masks or physical distancing?

Listen to the Covid Task Force head, Dr VK Paul, as reported by the Indian Express: “It is right that the graph (of the decline in the number of cases) has slowed down. It was earlier declining at a faster pace. It only shows that we cannot take the situation for granted. If it is around 35,000-37,000 cases per day, this is almost one-third the number of cases we saw during the first wave peak. The war is not over; the second wave is not over. It is perhaps more visible in some districts and two particular states and the Northeast, but it is still there. As long as this is still rising there, the nation is not safe…With a lot of effort and difficulty, we have reached a situation where cases are on the decline. The situation is bad only in a few districts. But all this can be snatched away from us because we have not contained the virus completely. If we give the virus an opportunity, and chains of transmission are launched…this is something we cannot afford…”

Indians banged thalis, frying pans, pressure cookers at 5 pm on March 22, 2021, following the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even when the virus was just about spreading its wings. Indians followed dutifully with no questions asked, the sudden, draconian and unplanned lockdown last March, which led to the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers. Indians even believed the PM when he said that all will be well in 21 days.

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Meanwhile, the states fought their own battles without any tangible help from the Center. Millions were rendered jobless, the poor were left to their helpless fate, the economy tanked and continues to tank, hunger, starvation, anxiety and depression stalked the unhappy landscape, there was ‘no vaccine policy’ worth its name, and people hoped against hope that 2021 will start with a flicker of hope. Remember the PM’s cathartic speech at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue in January 2021?

“Today, Covid cases are declining rapidly in India… India’s stats cannot be compared with one country as 18 per cent of the world’s population lives here and yet we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic… In these tough times, India has been undertaking its global responsibility from the beginning. When airspace was closed in many countries, India took more than 1 lakh citizens to their countries and delivered essential medicines to more than 150 countries…” 

Significantly, the PM said India’s role will increase with the rollout of more ‘Made in India’ Covid-19 vaccines. Clearly, this was chest-thumping in its most glorious form at the world stage.

Then arrived the deadly second surge, even as the PM and his Union home minster were obsessed with capturing Bengal at any cost, while welcoming millions at the super-spreader Kumbh. The PM was delighted to see huge crowds in one of his last rallies in Bengal. While sections of the stooge media played along, the international media published front page pictures of mass cremations, accompanied with highly critical text putting the entire blame on Modi. And they were on the spot, on the dot. Surely, the mass tragedy was a public spectacle for the world to see!

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Lest we forget, there were tens of thousands dying due to the acute scarcity of hospital beds, oxygen, life-saving drugs, with cremation and burial grounds unable to find space for the dead bodies, while parking lots, pavements, open spaces and public parks in some places were converted into cremation grounds. Some electric crematoriums refused to work because their ‘internal organs’ had melted due to the relentless heat, huge make-shift walls were created to block journalists to report on the relentless mass cremations (in Lucknow), and the data of deaths were allegedly fudged or censored, even while the obituary pages were full of tributes to the dead (as in Gujarat). 

So, is India prepared for the third wave?

On June 19, said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi:  “We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level. But it could happen within the next six to eight weeks… maybe a little longer.” He said that unless the population is vaccinated, the country will remain vulnerable in the coming months.

The Hindu reported in early May that that the principal scientific adviser to the government of India has warned that the third wave of Covid-19 is inevitable. “There is, however, no clear time-line on when this third phase will occur. We should be prepared for new waves, and Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccine upgrades is the way forward,” he said.

Modi has made the promise on live television of total and free vaccination in India after June 21. Hoardings have come up with the PM’s mug shot profusely thanking him for free vaccines. If Rahul Gandhi as much as tweets: ‘July has come. Where are the vaccines?’ some central ministers suddenly emerge from the shadows and Rahul gets a good tongue-lashing.

The situation is as fuzzy as it gets. Noida apparently stopped vaccination from June 30 for a week – reasons not known. Gujarat suspended vaccination recently for unknown reasons – there were no vaccines, according to sources, it was reported. Vaccination was stopped in Mumbai due to lack of vaccines, but restarted again. Almost all the big states reportedly have vaccination shortfalls; Bihar has a shortfall of 71 per cent, while West Bengal, Jharkhand and UP are not far away. Even Kerala and Delhi, who have done the best, will not be able to achieve a 60 per cent target by December.

Is the current scenario optimistic? Not really.

Apparently, about 20 per cent plus have got their first dose, and 5 per cent plus have been fully vaccinated. Surely, at this rate, no one knows when a country of India’s size will ever get ‘fully vaccinated’. And the bitter truth is that less the level of vaccination in the population, the more there are fears of multiple mutations of this killer virus. India, therefore, is as vulnerable as ever.

A Delhi Covid Survivor Shares His Story

While the 2nd wave of Covid-19 is mercifully behind India now, the danse macabre it brought in its wake, during March-May, will continue to haunt many citizens for a lifetime. A first-person account of a Covid survivor in Delhi brings you the situation up close:

The first symptoms showed up benignly: a mild fever of 100 degreeF (38C) and a gentle cough. But I had read enough about Covid to take these signals mildly. I isolated myself from the rest of my family, kept a bottle of sanitizer close and called the local chemist to deliver a pulse Oxy-meter and some medicines.

Warning signs came early. My calls to various pathology test labs for a swab sample to determine the infection were politely turned down. Most labs had suspended their services due to a massive surge. It was after two days that I was able to get myself tested at a hospital unit; the results took another two days.

Meanwhile, I consulted a doctor who specialized in internal medicine and treated Covid patients. I dutifully followed his prescriptions. The brands prescribed were not available at chemist shops but their generic alternatives could be managed. I read every information related to Covid-19 available on the Internet during isolation. I was sure by fifth-sixth day, things will take a positive turn.

But that was not to be.

My fever shot up to 103 degree F on the fifth day. Oxygen level, hitherto 99%, slipped to 95 intermittently. These were not happy signals. I consulted another senior doctor who added a few new medicines, including a cortico-steroid called Medrol. I was told to get back in two days if symptoms did not improve. They did not.

The new doctor advised admission to a hospital. His own facility, he apologized, was packed to capacity. He suggested in case we did not get a hospital bed that day itself, we should take an oxygen concentrator on rent. With my Oxygen levels dwindling, we arranged a concentrator. It was a good decision as by midnight, my O2 score fell off the red-mark 92.

The next day, we began the hunt for a hospital bed afresh. By afternoon, the severity of situation became clear to us. There were no beds available, leave alone a room, in either state or private hospitals across Delhi. Having called at least 50 hospitals and other leads provided by friends, little positive came out. Interestingly, I received a few calls from medical touts who promised a bed with oxygen for Rs 1 Lakh at non-descript facilities. Some offered to set up similar facilities at our place itself with an attendant for a hefty sum. I ignored the medical mafia calls.

I sought help from some of my resourceful friends. One of them posted an SOS on social media site Twitter. This was picked up by common friends and further amplified. By evening, a few windows opened. I was told the Delhi government had set up new Covid facilities and beds were available there. Friends were coordinating with officials to get me admitted there. By then, I was completely dependent on the concentrator for breathing. My family called up an ambulance to take me to any Covid facility that is finalised. My housing society, which had stored oxygen cylinders, offered them during transportation. It looked that things had begun to fall in place.

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Yamuna Sports complex, a large stadium turned into a Covid facility, was finally zeroed in on. I left home with my brother by my side, but as I stepped toward the society elevator, my vision blurred. Suddenly, there was darkness all around. When I opened my eyes again, I was sitting inside an ambulance, with a mask linked to an oxygen cylinder and people looking over me. I had blacked out and was lifted into the vehicle for oxygen feed. I realised the grim situation I was in. At the sports Complex, after some paperwork and running around, I was wheeled in to my assigned bed.

The set-up looked impressive at first sight. The hall was air-conditioned lined with foldable cots as beds, with brand new oxygen concentrators by their side. Young helpful volunteers moved around with tea, eatables and food packets. However, in an hour of my stay, I realized there were no doctors to be seen. “They would come if there is an emergency,” a fellow patient assured me. And then my oxygen concentrator blipped. Having experienced a blackout not long ago, I panicked. None of the uniformed volunteers knew how to fix the machine. Thankfully, a patient detached a tube, filled it with mineral water and re-started it. I knew the set-up was what it had been labeled: temporary.

Yamuna Sports Complex covid centre

The phone signals were weak but I managed to message my family about the ‘Covid camp’ condition. The answer was reassuring: the hunt for a proper hospital was still on. An hour before midnight, I got a call from my wife. She was on her way with an oxygen cylinder to shift me to a hospital in Noida, over 15 km from Delhi border. An editor friend had pulled all stops to get a room with oxygen facility. No ambulance was willing to cross the state border, hence she was coming with my brother.

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The guards and front staff at the hospital told us they were not taking any new patients as there were no beds; even the stretchers had been used as beds in the emergency unit. Another rounds of phone calls and an hour later, I was ushered in. In the few minutes that I took the oxygen mask off, the levels reached dangerously low again. But the expert staff managed the situation in a jiff. For once, since the blackout, I felt safe. I was told by an attendant not to take off the oxygen mask, even while using washroom. I was provided a nasal fork pipe during lunch and dinner.

The travails for the family hadn’t ended yet. They were to arrange Remdesivir injections. Each vial was being sold in black market for Rs 25-50,000 apiece. Then, there were fake injection too in circulation. Somehow these were arranged, two of them from a logistic facility in Manesar, Haryana, some 70 km from the hospital.

Five days, some 150 pills, and two dozen injections later, I was able to walk for a few minutes without the oxygen support. Although steroids fueled my appetite, I lost about 20 pounds. A deep breath took some effort, so did my visit to the attached washroom. I felt tired and my voice came out like a croak. Yes I felt lucky to have just about scraped through.

Upon my discharge after a week’s stay, with much gratitude for friends and family, I felt as if I was stepping into a new world. Travelling home with a precautionary mask on, I rolled down the window. An unseasonal drizzle had brought the temperature down and the fresh air on my face felt good. A song began to play on my lips noiselessly.

PS: During my recovery at home, I kept thinking about thousands of the unlucky ones who could not manage a bed, or arrange the elusive injections; those who stood helplessly to see their dear ones slipping away. It made me choke. I was brought up in New Delhi and was a witness to, as a patient also, its healthcare infrastructure transformed from a few stinky government-run hospitals of the 1970s to private multi-specialty facilities post-1990s. I never believed for a second that an invisible bug could bring this capital infrastructure to its knees in a matter of days. I prayed we had learnt our lessons.

‘India Must Vaccinate Vulnerable Sections On Priority’

Prof Jimmy Whitworth, a  member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for WHO’s R&D Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics, has been at the helm of several global initiatives on public health research in low- and middle-income countries. An academic staff member at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, he has rich experience in devising strategy and policy on population health. In an emailed interview, Prof Whitworth spoke with LokMarg about the pandemic situation in India, what to expect in the foreseeable future and how India can tackle the situation.

India has witnessed a deadly second wave of the COVID pandemic that has left in its wake millions of people dying and many more battling with the infection. Although there has been a decline in cases, are there still risks of another wave?

The deadly second wave of COVID-19 in India is now thankfully receding. From a peak of 400,000 new cases a day in early May, there are now around 100,000 new cases per day. However, unless there are concerted efforts to control the epidemic, there are likely to be large waves in the future. These reported numbers of cases are likely to be severe underestimates of the true burden due to a backlog in reporting test results, poor access to testing and many people not being tested because of fear or stigma.

Do you think the Indian government’s decision or recommendation to increase the interval between the first and second doses will have an impact on its efficacy? Or is it, as many believe, an attempt to solve the demand and supply gap for vaccines?

The gap between first and second doses is of minor importance right now, getting vaccines in Indian arms as quickly as possible is the priority. Early on in the pandemic India provided vaccines and medicines for other countries. But now there is a shortage of vaccine supplies in India that is expected to last until July 2021.

The important actions now are to give priority to vaccinations for vulnerable populations, support state level estimates of demand, ensure a coordinated strategy between states and make sure there is an effective supply chain. This means national and state level negotiations are needed to procure vaccines urgently.  There also needs to be a negotiation of patent waivers and clearances for production of a broad set of vaccines with incentives and support for local manufacturers.

One of the variants of the virus in India is believed to be a mutation that is resistant to antidotes. How effective are the vaccines available now? Is there reason to believe that they are not effective against new variants of the COVID virus?

The current vaccines appear to be effective at preventing infection and disease of all of the new variants described so far, although there is some drop-off in effectiveness in protection against some of the strains. The vaccines are still valuable and one of the most important tools that we have to combat this terrible epidemic. Everyone should be encouraged to come forward for vaccination.

How do you think India can best handle the situation there in the context of lack of healthcare infrastructure and the sheer size of the population?

Despite the vast population and fragmented health system, India can control this epidemic. This needs political leadership, with good quality data for decision making. Transparency, public communication and engagement to ensure collective responsibility and action will be important. We need to enhance the ability of health services to respond by expanding the pool of trained, well-protected staff, establish dedicated well-equipped and safe COVID-19 facilities, use primary care for home care, and ensure sufficient medical supplies and oxygen. As well as the need for mass vaccination mentioned above, we need to scale up SARS-CoV-2 testing and expand decentralised contact tracing and isolation. International and domestic travel need to be reduced and made safe through testing and quarantine. Effective bans of gatherings of more than 12 people, closing venues and indoor public spaces and ensuring physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing will be important to prevent transmission of infection.

What does the future scenario look like? Would most of the world’s population have to live with the reality that the virus and its mutants will continue to be a threat in varying degrees for the foreseeable future?

The measures mentioned above will be sufficient to bring the epidemic under control, however it is likely that this virus will remain in the human population and cause outbreaks for years to come. We will need to adapt to become faster and more effective at controlling these waves of infection. This may need the development of new vaccines to combat variants that occur in the future.

Virus Isn’t Going Away, Prevention Is Our Best Bet

Coronavirus has turned our lives upside down in more ways than one and even after a year of the pandemic being officially announced, the world is not in the green. As a community medicine practitioner in Epidemiology, I have been studying the behaviour of the novel Coronavirus and its host, us, the humans. Yet, no matter how much I study things in detail, I always come to the same conclusion about the Coronavirus: This virus can change forms (mutate) and come up with new strains faster than we can figure out its cure or vaccine. So, our best bet right now is to avoid the virus! The prevention is easy; the cure may not be.

Our best preventive tools – masks, hand-wash and sanitisers are now easily available. What is not easily available is the will in most people to co-operate and use these tools both for individual safety as well as public health. Even as the number of infected cases and resultant fatalities rise, there is a certain nonchalance in public behaviour regarding the risks. On March 27, more than 62,000 new cases were registered across the country, with over 300 deaths. The first time that the number of people infected in a single day went above 50,000 was July 27, 2020. The last time that the number of new cases went above 50,000 was November 6, 2020.

Even though the number of new infected cases is going up, the ratio of the number of people losing their lives to the infection, is so far less in 2021, than it was in 2020. However, those suffering with manifestations are showing somewhat severe symptoms than before. Though panic is never a way forward, but we should not definitely let our guards down yet as well.

We are seeing a renewed, fresh wave of the virus because the virus has mutated (changed its basic genetic structure and developed newer, more dangerous strains) to survive in its human hosts. We have learnt some strategies to cope with them and the virus too has gained new skills to dodge the human immune system! The influenza virus mutates almost every year and develops new strains. We will have to see which way the wind blows for the novel coronavirus. It definitely has mutated within a year.

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With newer mutations coming up globally we are faced with the threat of the new strains, the UK strain, the South African strain, and the Brazilian strain. It is the antigens that are responsible for stimulating the production of antibodies by the immune system. Even minor mutations depending on the area of the virus they have occurred in, can play in a big way with our immune systems, and are known as ‘variants of concern’. These new variants are identified using a process known as genome sequencing, which reads and then interprets the genetic information found in the RNA- Ribonucleic acid (in this case) of the virus. We need to study the virus to be able to fight it better.

India, through genome sequencing has also detected what is known as a new “double mutant” COVID-19 variant. This means that two important changes are coming together in the same virus. The mutations are basically affecting key areas in the spike protein (the crown-like area which helps the virus to latch on to human cells) of the coronavirus and thus helping them skip or escape the resistance offered by our immune system. This is mostly affecting states like Maharashtra and Delhi the most. Other states closer to these two are also reporting increased number of cases. This is probably because these two states have the maximum international travel (both inward and outward) and thus the maximum exposure to the virus, both by way of the original strain (from Wuhan, China) and the 3 newer strains. At least 18 states and Union Territories in India now have different strains of coronavirus running amok: the UK strain, the South African strain and the Indian strain, so to speak. The threat of infection is high.

What all this means is we are taking one step forward and two steps back in terms of handling the pan-world health crisis. We were all thinking that with the vaccine we would now be saved, but the virus is changing in ways that render the vaccines weak. We cannot say that a person who has been infected once and has received the vaccine as well, won’t be re-infected, though it depends upon an individual’s immune strength as to how his/her body will react and to what level they would be affected.

However, the scientists suggest that the severity of the disease will be bit lesser among the vaccinated individuals – a ray of hope, but still the battle against spread of infection, is on. During the first wave of coronavirus in March 2020 what saved us was the lockdown; it helped in more ways than one to trace and isolate and further treat infected people. However, for all purposes, a second nationwide lockdown doesn’t look feasible, because it affects the people financially when they are not able to earn their livelihood.

What we need right now to handle the second wave is a really strong execution of the plan we already have in place. Public health awareness was already achieved during the first wave; almost the whole population is aware of the crisis as well as the solution, but what is missing is a respect for solutions and the motivation to enact those simple behaviours.

We need strong public health advocacy. Everyday we need to educate, organize and mobilise to change the reluctant and seemingly over-confident attitude among the mass as a whole.  We need people at the grassroots level to reinforce for good the safety measures. So many people have let their guards down after one year of the pandemic. The various state elections, the many political rallies, the many religious festivals (we have the upcoming Kumbh Mela) have all contributed to the pandemic still holding fort really strong. We need strong community level leadership at every possible level. Anyone with a voice that is heard and respected should advocate for the use of masks, regular handwashing and social distancing. I wish some religious leaders across faiths weren’t so dismissive of the severity of the pandemic; since many people listen to them.

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We need to reach out to these leaders so that they can influence their followers. Faith must meet science if we want to overcome the pandemic. Political leaders at centre and state levels need to reach out to every kind of leaders possible, to bring about behaviour changes among the people to eliminate the virus from amidst us. To use a sociological concept, we need to the diffuse ideas of public well-being and precautions so that they become culturally acceptable and thus practiced among large parts of the population. The media plays an important role here.

The onus this second time around is truly on the public. We will keep losing the race to the virus until we follow the basic measures stringently. Lockdowns can only stop inter-cluster exchange or two areas with infection from interacting with each other and thus ceasing a larger spillage, but it may not stop intra-location infections. Nowadays, we have a huge number of people living in societies and apartments. Even if they go out only to buy essential items, but don’t follow basic precautionary measures like masks etc. they can still infect or be infected.

All of us depend on each of us this time. It’s kind of “One for all, all for one” idea! As a Community Medicine expert, I once again want to emphasise that it is the community spirit which will keep us safe and alive. Each one for another! The virus alone is not the real enemy, but our relaxed approach to the virus certainly is! We can weaken it in some time if we strictly follow the rules. The so called herd immunity has not shown promising results in this case, so individual immunity is all we have to turn our communities healthy. If we don’t want another lockdown, let’s bring out masks, sanitisers and the will to keep fighting the contagion – by respecting the social distancing norms. Let us put all efforts to develop a “behavioural herd immunity” this time.

The writer is an epidemiologist at College of Medicine & Sagor Dutta Hospital in Kolkata)

‘In Initial Days Of Covid-19, Doctors Lost Sense Of Time’

Dr Arista Lahiri, 31, Sr Resident (Epidemiology) at College Of Medicine & Sagor Dutta Hospital in Kolkata, recounts how healthcare professionals battled the unknown virus and why we can’t let the guard down even now

I was fresh out of medical school when the pandemic struck. Even though my field of study was community medicine and thus I was well-versed with the incidence, spread and possible control of diseases during an epidemic/pandemic, yet nothing had prepared us for a crisis of such epic proportions that affected the whole world.

I was posted at the District Hospital in 24 Parganas (North) and had gone to another city to attend a medical conference in January 2020 when coronavirus began to be discussed seriously. Wuhan was already reeling under its impact and slowly the medical fraternity across the world had begun to realise that the virus was soon going to spread much, much farther than China.

In March-end, when the pandemic was officially declared in India, I dedicated myself completely to fighting the unknown virus. We were a four-member team doing 24×7 surveillance of both active as well as potential cases to target and isolate. We were doing everything from data entry to helping Covid patients get admission in hospitals to occasionally going out in the fields to see how the situation was panning out.

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For two-three months we had no sense of time, putting in every hour of work that we could and going home only to sleep. We had no life outside work for those several months and no outlet to unwind. We just kept each other motivated and in good spirits.

Dr Lahiri says battling the virus is not the job of healthcare professionals alone

I was myself scared of the contagion; there were so many people suffering around us. Each day, I pulled myself up and marched on stronger. My parents were extremely supportive and understood my duty as a medical professional.

While the rest of the country was facing only Covid, nature dealt a double blow to West Bengal: cyclone Amphan. I am quite happy with the way our state government handled the crisis. The entire state machinery from the primary to district to state-level worked in tandem. Post-Amphan, there was a shifting of roles and responsibilities and I was asked to be a member of the Covid State Cell in Kolkata in June end.

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We had all learnt better by then and were able to streamline our work better. The workload eased off just a tiny bit, though we were still checking in hundreds and hundreds of patients each day. One thing I was happy about was that I was now living with my parents in Kolkata.

Since then I have been working in Kolkata itself doing 12 hour shifts every day. Between my work as faculty at the College of Medicine and my work at the Sagordutta Hospital, I have to travel nearly 40 kms each day. We cannot afford to slack off even now, though we can relax a bit.

Battling the pandemic isn’t the job of frontline healthcare workers alone. Community medicine is all about a community’s adherence to rules. Even though vaccines have been developed, we need to understand that new strains of the virus might still take over. So masks, sanitizing and social distancing are still our best bets against the virus! I got both my vaccine shots, but I still take all the precautions.

‘Vaccine’s Only Side-Effect Was Mild Fever Overnight’

Saroj Kumar, 49, a family welfare counsellor and frontline worker amid Covid-19 in Uttar Pradesh, is feeling relieved after receiving the vaccine on the first day of the immunisation drive

I work as family welfare counsellor at a Community Health Centre in Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh) and I can proudly say that healthcare sector workers like us have been the backbone of India’s fight against coronavirus. We faced the virus day in and day out without fear, hours on end.

It was therefore a big relief when the government announced that health professionals and other frontline workers would be vaccinated on priority. As a healthcare professional I was among the people to be vaccinated on January 16, the first day of the immunisation drive.

We had been asked to register ourselves a day prior to the vaccination and post-registration, I was told to reach the designated health centre for the serum shot. I reached the centre at 12:30 pm where my temperature and oxygen levels were checked the first thing at the gate. Next, I was given hand sanitisers and waited for my turn.

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Once I was administered the vaccine jab, which hardly took a minute, I was kept under observation for around half an hour at the centre. Two girls who were making a note of the entry and exit timings of the vaccine beneficiaries, also checked if any of the vaccinated person showed any discomfort or adverse reaction. We had been told that there could be mild side-effects.

Saroj Kumar (wearing a facemask and inset) took a selfie while waiting for the vaccine

My workplace (the very centre I was vaccinated at) is nearly 60 km from home. On the vaccination day, I took the regular bus and faced no discomfort per se on the way. However, I ran mild fever after reaching home around evening. The fever lasted overnight and in the morning my body temperature returned to normal. I am feeling fit as a fiddle now.

During the pandemic when public transport wasn’t available, reaching my workplace was tough. So I had requested to be temporarily allowed to work at a health centre nearer home. The authorities were considerate and I was assigned work at the Chief Medical Office’s office closer home.

My new role was to take calls at the Help Centre. Since it was the beginning of the pandemic, we had to field hundreds of calls each day. So, I can tell you there was much anxiety among people and patients about both the pandemic and its prospective treatment or vaccine.

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Now, I have been working with Covid-positive patients who are isolating at home. Every morning, a doctor, I visit these patients in our district and administer medicine to them as well as monitor their condition. Covid is contagious, but for most people, not deadly. Yet, people are scared as it has caused so many deaths.

I am glad that people like us will now feel completely free and safe after the twin vaccination shots, since we meet many Covid positive patients every day. I am not scared of the virus, but I do have a family of four to take care of. The vaccination process has brought me a lot of mental relief. Given how successful our polio vaccination programme was in the past, across the length and breadth of our country, I am sure we will win the fight against Covid too.

As Told To Yogmaya Singh

‘Proud To Be A Part Of Vaccination Programme’

Savita Paliwal, 52, a senior vaccinator in Moradabad (UP), is happy to see India among the first few countries to launch vaccination programme early. She explains how the monumental process will unfold

I have been in the medical profession for nearly three decades now and have been involved with quite a few vaccination and immunisation programmes. As a government employee at the Community Health Centre at Thakurdwara, Moradabad, I have been actively involved in building a healthy society. However, this time it is quite different.

Dealing with the Covid-19 is something that we have never seen before in our entire career. Healthcare professionals have been on their toes for nearly a year now. And with new strains coming up at different parts of the world, the challenge is only getting tougher.

It was therefore both a moment of relief and pride when we were informed that India is one of the first few countries to start vaccination programme. We have compiled the beneficiary list in our zone and have had two dry runs, on January 5 and 8.

We have been divided into two teams of three members each. Both teams have one vaccinator, one helper and a data expert (someone who keeps track of the beneficiaries who get vaccination). Healthcare professionals, especially the pharmacists and paramedical staff will be given the vaccine on priority basis.

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The phase 1 of the programme begins on January 16. Each team is supposed to vaccinate 25 people in a day, so in our locality you can say that the Community Health Centre employees will be vaccinating around 50 people daily. The process will be spread across five rooms with standard operating procedure in place like regular sanitization, temperature screening etc.

Savita Paliwal (middle) with her colleagues at Moradabad community health centre

The DM (district magistrate) was very involved in how the dry runs were conducted and there was total cooperation from the Chief Minster’s office as well. I feel happy that we are all functioning as one smooth machinery.

Of course, many people are scared of taking vaccines but as someone with an extensive experience in this field I know how to soothe people. Asha workers are also involved in the vaccination programme, and spreading awareness about it.

Moradabad was declared a hotspot last year and I would say we expect most people to be co-operative. No query of the beneficiaries will be considered insignificant and we will take care to also inform them of the minor side-effects they might encounter after the vaccination.

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I feel lucky to be a part of this monumental process. I have been keeping myself updated with all the news about vaccines developed in India as well as other countries and I would say so far we have handled the Covid-19 situation really well. But it is not over yet and the pandemic needs the cooperation of every single citizen of the country. I make it a point to carry extra masks in my bag and hand them free to anyone I see not wearing a mask.

I feel proud that India developed and mass-produce a vaccine in good time and now we aren’t dependent on any foreign country for the immunity programme. I wonder how the scientists who developed the vaccines must have raced against time to save as many lives as possible. I hope the process goes smoothly. We have managed and eradicated polio and now we are confident we shall put corona virus behind us too.

‘Docs Are Giving Their Best, But Public Support Is Vital’

Dr Neeta Shrivastava, 37, a microbiologist in Mumbai, reveals how health workers keep tough schedule at work and then also manage household chores in the absence of house helps

I am a clinical microbiologist. Which means I handle the team that interprets the details of swab samples from the testing lab to determine whether a person has been infected by Coronavirus or not. A team from the authorised testing labs is present in various hospitals and collects the swab samples of suspect cases.

Our team has been divided into two batches and we have been asked to report to work only on alternate days. This is to ensure that if even a single staff member gets affected, it doesn’t spread to the entire team. These are crucial times and we cannot take any chances.

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Currently, there are only two government and six private labs in Mumbai doing the testing. Every day many people come but not everyone can be tested. It is only recently that Coronavirus test kits became available but as the cases spike we are on the verge of facing a shortage of test kits again.

We collect nearly 20 samples everyday, which are then sent to a lab. It is a time-consuming and a delicate process. Plus, a dangerous one too. We have to be very careful while handling samples. We have to wear PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) all the time. Our team collects samples through nasopharyngeal swab that goes up the nose far back into the throat and collects mucous, saliva, and bits of cells.

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The number of Coronavirus cases in Maharashtra has crossed 300-mark (as on April 1) and Mumbai units are handling a major portion of those cases. The doctors here have been giving their best, just like in any part of the world. Dr Rajesh Tope is leading the charge in Mumbai and we have been able to hold fort pretty well in the metropolis. However, it would be helpful if the citizens started listening to an acting upon the guidelines too.

We as frontline workers are scared for ourselves and our families because here is a disease that even the medical fraternity has little clue about. But doctors know how to keep ourselves calm under pressure situations. And the public on its party must understand the urgency and cooperate.

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I have two kids, aged 1 and 7. It is difficult to manage work and home. Plus with the changing guidelines everyday that come from ICMR, WHO etc, means we get very little time to adapt to new situations. People with travel histories to foreign countries should be proactive in getting tested or at least letting the authorities know. Many doctors do back-breaking work at hospitals and then go back home for daily chores too, because the house helps have stopped coming. The medical staff needs to be well-protected and well-supported.

Many heart-breaking videos of doctors not being able to hug their children have been doing the rounds, but I find it difficult to keep away from my one year old girl. She needs me. I make sure I take a thorough bath after I return from the hospital, then I wash everything that I took to work with hot water, and it is only then that I touch my daughter. It is difficult but we will see through this.  My 7-year old understands what is going on and cooperates better than many grown-ups.