NEW DELHI: Baghpat native Shiv Kumar rode over 20 km on his bike daily to Rajiv Gandhi hospital in east Delhi during the lockdown, zealously fed coronavirus patients and shared their grief, and on Monday the 19-year-old became the youngest staff of the facility to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kumar, son of a farmer, who delivered yeoman service during the pandemic last year, was beaming with pride and exhibited humility after getting a jab of Covishield on his arm at the vaccination centre of the hospital, which till recently was a dedicated coronavirus facility.
The teenager, who is pursuing a bachelor's course at a private university in Meerut through distance learning, says he took up a job of a multi-tasking staff at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital (RGSSH) in April despite knowing that he will be "put on Covid duty".
"I was not afraid of the virus at all, neither the lockdown made me feel scared. My family didn't ask me to do any job, but I did not want to sit at home after finishing high school. And, so, when my uncle told me about a job opportunity at this hospital, I took it up readily," Kumar told PTI.
On Monday, the second scheduled day of the mega COVID-19 vaccination drive, 20 staff got vaccinated nearly half of the number (45) on the launch day of the exercise on Saturday, officials said.
"Out of the 65 beneficiaries, he (Shiv Kumar) is the youngest one to have been vaccinated at our hospital's centre. All our staff had risen to the occasion when it mattered," RGSSH spokesperson Chhavi Gupta said.
Kumar, when asked if he was afraid of getting vaccinated as many people are getting apprehensions about its efficacy and safety, said, "I don't have any fear at all."
The 19-year-old still recalls the day when he would have to leave his home at Uttar Pradesh's Baghpat at 4.00 am to reach Delhi and join duty by 6-6:30 am when he was deployed in COVID-19 wards.
"I was hired as an MTS (multi-tasking staff) and my job involved giving beverages to senior officers, carrying files and also COVID services. So, I have fed corona patients in their wards, wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kit, sat with them, shared their grief," he recalled.
Asked why he chose to take up such a "precarious job", Kumar said, "I want to serve people, do something from them."
"I know youth of my age were scared of the lockdown and the pandemic that wreaked havoc across the world. But there was a feeling of faith inside and an inner strength that allowed me to go on and do what I did," he said.
The memories of grieving families, dead bodies piling up and extraordinary services of doctors and nurses and other staff, will be "part of my indelible memories forever".
While Kumar was tested negative for COVID-19 a few months ago, many of his colleagues were hit by by the pandemic, two of whom got vaccinated on Saturday.
Tikesh Kumar, 27, another MTS, who had also joined the hospital during the early months of the lockdown, praised Kumar and his "zeal to serve the society, fearlessly".
"He is so young, his moustache has not even come properly. When he told me he was 19, I asked him to pull his mask down as I couldn't believe a teenage was serving in a dedicated coronavirus hospital," he said.
RGSSH has till date treated nearly 4,000 patients and from a high number of fatalities in November when the third wave of the pandemic had hit Delhi, the active cases have come down to about 10, the facility's Medical Director, B L Sherwal told PTI.
"Our staff, young and old, experienced and newly-trained, all rose to the occasion. As far as the number of people turning up for vaccination is concerned, yes it is below expectation, and people feeling apprehensive about the vaccine is one factor behind it," he added.
Kumar, when asked if his father is following the unprecedented protest by farmers at Singhu Border mostly drawn from Punjab, he said "quite intently".
"He fully supports the protesting farmers and I too have been reading in newspapers and seeing reports on internet," he said.
"I am a farmer's son and not afraid of the odds. Also, RGSSH colleagues with whom I worked during the pandemic are like one family now."