Covid-19: Frontline workers urge others to take the shot, advise caution

Updated on Apr 11, 2021 02:54 AM IST

A resident of Najafgarh in outer Delhi, Manish Kumar was a sanitation machine operator for eight years and received the shot flanked by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and AIIMS director Randeep Guleria.

Sanitation worker Manish Kumar was vaccinated at AIIMS on January 16. (Reuters)
Sanitation worker Manish Kumar was vaccinated at AIIMS on January 16. (Reuters)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

At 11.10am on January 16, sanitation worker Manish Kumar became the first person in India to get the Covid-19 vaccine, marking a personal triumph for the 34-year-old employee of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences who overcame the fear and disapproval of friends and family to get the jab.

Almost three months down the line, Kumar has received both shots of Covaxin, manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, but continues to adhere to Covid-19 protocol – wearing a mask wherever he goes, washing hands constantly, and maintaining distancing when he is out.

“The vaccine is not Shaktimaan. You cannot stop wearing mask and roam around just because you have got a shot,” said Kumar. “But if you are vaccinated, then Covid-19 will graze past you.”

A resident of Najafgarh in outer Delhi, Kumar was a sanitation machine operator for eight years and received the shot flanked by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and AIIMS director Randeep Guleria. He was among the first people in the hospital to volunteer for the vaccine but was forced to keep his wife, mother and best friend in the dark because of their strong apprehension of side effects.

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His mother Laxmi Rani, who is also a sanitation worker at the hospital, has been vaccinated and he is trying to convince his brother Brijesh, who works with airline carrier Indigo, for the same. This is a matter of deep personal satisfaction for Kumar because Rani was deeply opposed to the shot earlier, and even tried to convince her son to opt out of the drive.

Vaccination has become even more critical in Delhi with a mammoth second wave of infections driving up caseloads in the Capital. Kumar says he knows of people who were infected during the current wave even after getting both shots – after all, no vaccine has 100% efficiency – and urged all his colleagues and neighbours to get it to be as safe as possible.

When Kumar received the shot, the drive was open only to healthcare and frontline workers. It has since then been opened up to anyone above 45, but vaccine hesitancy and misinformation continue to hobble the drive. The sanitation worker had to convince his childhood friend Shaukat Ali for days to get the shot because of fears of adverse effects.

“When the vaccination drive was being rolled out, no one wanted to come forward. I volunteered. When they saw nothing happened to me, around 40 of my peers came forward to get vaccinated the same day. But, when some among them did get some adverse effects, 40 or 50 people they knew did not get the shot. There are many who did not take their second shot because they got a fever or rash after the first one,” said Kumar.

He believed this decision was without logic. “Even children also get fever when they get their shots.”

Biji Tomy agreed. A 49-year-old staff nurse from Delhi’s Lok Nayak hospital, Tomy received her first shot of Covishield vaccine on January 16 but continued to take all precautions.

“I do not step out without a mask and when I go home from work I wash all my clothes. I may be immunised, but I can pass on the infection to my family,” she said.

“My husband will get his shot in a couple of days. I tell whomever I meet to get the shot. When the government is offering the facility of getting a vaccine for free, why shouldn’t we get it?” she said.

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She is hopeful that the vaccine will protect her from severe disease, and that its benefits will be visible as cases steadily rise in the city. “The hospital is again increasing the number of Covid-19 beds, so sooner or later I will have to work in the Covid-19 wards again. Although I know people who got the infection even after being vaccinated, the disease was not severe. I hope none of us get a severe disease now that we are vaccinated,” she said.

Other than getting immunised, Tomy hopes people will stop going out unnecessarily, avoid big weddings and events, and wear masks. “We do not want to spend another summer in personal protective equipment (PPE) kits. Staying in the suit is very difficult in peak summer months without drinking water. All the healthcare workers did it last year. We do not want to do it again,” she said.

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    Anonna Dutt is a health reporter at Hindustan Times. She reports on Delhi government’s health policies, hospitals in Delhi, and health-related feature stories.

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