The last nine months have been emotionally exhausting for healthcare workers. Sulochna Kataria — a nurse currently posted at the Delhi government-run GB Pant Hospital — saw a number of patients die of coronavirus almost every day. The deadly virus has also claimed many of her colleagues’ lives. All the while, Kataria — confronting the crisis head-on — hoped for an early scientific breakthrough. On January 16, she became the first healthcare staff at the hospital to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
While many healthcare workers were torn between their professional commitments and personal well-being, amid concerns about the safety and efficacy of at least one of the two approved vaccines, Kataria was determined despite her family’s apprehensions. “A day before the vaccination, when I had told my family members that I was going to get the shot, they were extremely sceptical about my decision... For seven months last year, I worked at a COVID-19 ward at the Lok Nayak Hospital.
It has been one and a half months since I have been transferred to the GB Pant Hospital. I have witnessed lives getting devastated in hours, families collapse. I consider myself lucky that the virus didn’t hit me. The vaccine has come as a blessing for all of us,” says Kataria. The 55-year-old nurse says she took the first shot to allay fears about the safety of the vaccine and inspire her juniors.
“I had sensed apprehensions among my younger colleagues. Many had even asked me to back out of the process until concrete evidence of the efficacy of the vaccines is found. But I was confident that the vaccines won’t do any harm. I wanted to be an inspiration for them,” Kataria adds. Ashutosh Chaturvedi, 31, an emergency nursing head at Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital in Saket, is excited that he will finally be able to meet his parents without any fear.
“For the last eight months, I haven’t met my family to avoid any direct contact. With the vaccine rollout, I have gained immense confidence. This vaccine is dedicated to those healthcare professionals who have sacrificed their lives while protecting patients. I think everyone, especially HCWs, should participate in the vaccination drive. Otherwise, it will be difficult to defeat COVID,” says Chaturvedi, the first staff at the hospital to get the vaccine on Saturday.
Sinu R, a nurse at the Lady Hardinge Medical College, says while the vaccines’ efficacy is important, waiting for the final results may push people to further risk of getting infected. “It had to start at some point. There are of course concerns of the efficacy of the vaccines, but we cannot wait forever. The side-effects are also not that serious,” he says. Interestingly, 23-year-old Mohammad Faizal Ansari, who was among the first HCWs at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital to get the jab, has no clue about the vaccine which was administered.
“I got a message on Friday night that I will be given a vaccine shot. Next morning, I received a call from the centre where the vaccine was being administered. I don’t know if it was Covaxin or Covishield. Lekin jo bhi tha, woh accha hi hoga. Warna sarkar humein kyon tika lene ke liye kehte. (Whatever it is. It has to be good. Otherwise, why would the government ask us to take the vaccine),” he says. Incidentally, resident doctors of the hospital on Saturday demanded that they be given the Covishield vaccine instead of Covaxin as the former has completed its Phase 3 trials. Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, is yet to complete its last stage trials.
The doctors also said they would not participate in the vaccination process if they are administered the Bharat Biotech vaccine. The Serum Institute is the local maker of the other vaccine, Covishield, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca. Faizal says he wasn’t offered any counselling before the vaccination drive.
Low turnout on day 1
At all the centres, it was mostly nursing, para-medical staff, sanitation workers, security guards, among others who came forward on the first day of the vaccination drive. On being asked about the reason behind the low turnout of doctors, hospital administrations said that the majority of them were deputed at their daily duties and OPDs. “Many had night shifts, while some were assigned at operation theatres. But in the coming days, we can expect the participation of more doctors,” says an official at the Lady Hardinge Medical College.
Some experts, however, say people adopting a “wait and watch” approach, lack of communication and glitches in the CoWin app are the major reasons why only 53 per cent people got the shots on the first day in Delhi. “There is a little bit of apprehension (about the vaccine). Also, people in India adopt a ‘wait and watch’ approach in important matters, be it purchasing a new car or an appliance. People consider the experiences of others before taking a call,” B L Sherwal, Medical Director of Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital, says.
On Sunday, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said some people did not turn up for the vaccination at the last moment, adding that the government cannot ask anyone to compulsorily take the jab. He also said that the number of vaccination centres in Delhi will be increased from 81 to 175 soon.
Pvt facilities perform better
As compared to the government hospitals, private facilities witnessed a better turnout on Saturday. At the central government’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, only 31 people received the jab. At the Delhi government-run Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, around 50 were vaccinated. “The government should have declared it a holiday. Otherwise, how will the HCWs come for the vaccination? The majority of us were busy with our duties,” says Dr Sunita Khanna, additional medical superintendent at Kalawati Saran Hospital.
Dr Sahar Qureshi, medical superintendent at Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital in Saket, says: “When we got the news that our hospital will be one of the vaccination centres, it came as a ray of hope for all of us. We had prepared our teams accordingly to take care of the drive. We simply followed the government guidelines issued to us on the preparation for the vaccination process.”
Covaxin or Covishield?
The national capital has received 2.64 lakh vaccines of Covishield and 20,000 doses of Covaxin for the first phase. While the state-run and private hospitals were provided with Covishield, the Centre-run facilities have received Covaxin. Many of the HCWs at the central government hospitals told this correspondent that they were backing out of the process since Covaxin is yet to complete its Phase 3 trials. For the Covaxin jabs, the administration is taking a consent form first.
“Are we any different from that of private or state-run hospitals? If not, then why there are separate vaccines for us?” asks a doctor from the RML Hospital. “We are being told that if we don’t volunteer in the drive, we won’t get the shots later on. This is nothing but a pressure-building tactic. The vaccine whose report is yet to be published should not be administered,” says a doctor working at AIIMS.
Long road ahead
Many hospitals say the real challenge will start after a few days when non-HCWs will have to be administered the jabs. “Many residents had also turned up to inquire about the process. When more people will have to be administered in a single day there will be more challenges,” says Dr Sunita from the Lady Hardinge Medical College.
Day 1 Vax populi
8,117 Target to vaccinate healthcare workers (HCWs) in the national capital
4,319 HCWs vaccinated
While hasty clearance to Covaxin has infused apprehension among a section of healthcare workers, who chose to adopt a ‘wait and watch’ approach on day 1 of COVID-19 vaccination drive, many heaved a sigh of relief, reports Somrita Ghosh