From a ASHA worker to the keeper of the cold chain, here, the unseen people responsible for the COVID-19 vaccine reaching you
9 am; January 16, 2021. Dr TR John has reason to remember this date and time. The Chief of Medical Service, Aster Medcity, Kochi, was readying to oversee the first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital and sensed the beginning of the end of a battle. An Indian Army veteran who served in Jammu and Kashmir for eight years before taking premature retirement, he says, “It felt like just before the launch of an assault on the enemy. This has been a battle after all.”
What to expect
- Vaccination centres have been identified considering the availability of three separate rooms — a waiting area, a room for vaccination, and another to monitor the recipient for half an hour after receiving the vaccine. Ambulances will be available at the centres in case of an adverse reaction. The recipient’s identification card is verified with the registration on the CoWIN platform before the vaccine is given. Dr TR John explains that a team of four vaccinating officers and one vaccinator will take the person through the process of identification, vaccination, observation and follow-up advisory.
For most of humanity, the fight against the Coronavirus has also been a question of marking time. After scientists doubled up their efforts to find a solution, the world has waited with bated breath. Finally, as the weapon to tackle the virus began to roll out globally, and in India on January 16, hope and relief, despite the scepticism, binds us all.
On the frontline
“A specialised duty; a service to the nation,” is how Kunal Agarwal, co-founder of Koolex Cold Chain describes his role. On January 12, Agarwal stood at his depot in Pune at 4am to supervise the despatch of cold chain trucks carrying Covishield, (one of the COVID-19 vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University, UK, and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India) to the airport.
“It was a proud moment for our organisation. Our fleet of 400 GPS-enabled trucks ferry highly sensitive medicines and vaccines across the country routinely but this time was different.”
Since the pandemic began India has confirmed more than 10.3 million cases and over 1,50,000 deaths. The first phase of inoculation will immunise 30 crore individuals that comprise one crore health workers, 2 crore frontline workers and 27 crore people above the age of 50 with medical co-morbidities.
- The number of health workers Dr Abdul Ghafur, an Infectious Disease Consultant at Apollo Hospital, conducted a survey with, three weeks ago. The results showed that 45% wished to take the jab as soon as it was ready, while 55% were undecided and wished to defer it.
Latha Raju, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker has been doing field work with palliative care for the last 10 years and was deputed to track 500 households in two divisions of Cochin Corporation during the ongoing pandemic. She reported 78 positive COVID cases and four deaths from her area. “Our prayers have been answered. We have fought with courage. The vaccine brings hope,” says Latha.
This is a line that is echoed by ambulance driver Yadhu Krishna. Admitting to being afraid in the initial stages, Yadhu, who worked with 11 COVID-19 First Line Treatment Centres in Kochi, says he will now work to dispel panic and fear among the people.
Heart and mind
On the other side of the world, in the US, Dr Suzana Alex John, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and a Rheumatology Specialist at Emory University School of Medicine, felt a sense of awe and was “humbled and blessed at receiving the vaccine”.
An installation depicting the Coronavirus, by Kochi artist Bindhi Rajagopal
The doctor who hails from Kochi and studied Medicine at Puducherry was among the first batch to be inoculated with the mRNA Pfizer vaccine. She describes the entire operation as “history in the making. I have been following the development of the vaccine. It is because of the dedicated hard work of researchers and scientists that we have it ready in record time. People worry about it being under tested, fast forwarded but actually it has been in the making for nearly three decades. It is a robust vaccine,” says Dr Suzana sharing a picture of a smiling nurse giving her the jab.
With the conclusion of hectic preparations and dry runs for the vaccination programme, Dr MG Shivadas, Ernakulam District Nodal Office for COVID, is finally breathing easy. “We have done everything as per the Government guidelines. There’s no anxiety, but there is lot of enthusiasm. This is for the sake of humanity,” says the doctor who wants grassroot-level frontline workers to be immunised first.
As mass vaccination gets underway, “hope springs eternal in the human heart,” says Dr Vasudevan recollecting the small pox vaccine, which he used to take as a child. “That was medieval torture. This is just a jab on the upper arm. We have come a long way indeed,” he says.