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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Covid-19 vaccine volunteer in Pune: ‘Like dust gets cleared, so will Covid be… Picture abhi baaki hai’

The chairman of a nutrition company, Arun Khanna started out modestly as a medical representative, going on to become the chief operating officer of a top Pune-based pharma firm. It’s this background that convinced him what he needed to do when the Serum Institute of India

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Updated: January 1, 2021 9:23:13 am
Arun Khanna at his residence in Pune. (Express Photo By Pavan Khengre)

“Mild fever and body ache for a day or two.” Four months after he, eight members of his family and six employees at his home and office became among the first volunteers in India for trials of the Covishield vaccine, Pune-based Arun Khanna says that his routine is back to pre-Covid days, but for that brief interlude when he received his first dose.

The 64-year-old takes his two dogs, Naughty and Angel, out for a walk, and then settles down to work from home, these days not going to his office, that is a five-minute drive from his sprawling bungalow. Khanna has also taken two outstation trips since — with family to Amby Valley near Pune and with his chartered accountant to Vaishno Devi.

The chairman of a nutrition company, Khanna started out modestly as a medical representative, going on to become the chief operating officer of a top Pune-based pharma firm. It’s this background that convinced him what he needed to do when the Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with Oxford-Astrazeneca for a vaccine, sought volunteers for it. Before he took the step, Khanna read up all he could find on how the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was faring in trials across different sites.

Khanna, his wife Ruupa (59) and daughter Pooja were the country’s third, fourth and fifth volunteers for Phase III double-blind trials of Covishield, which is expected to be among the first vaccines available for public use in India, receiving his first dose on August 27 and second on September 25.

Later, Khanna’s son, his elder brother and his family, and a majority of staff also took the shot, followed by 16 other family members and associates, at his urging. All are doing fine.

“Our driver did not get the vaccine as he was found to have a high amount of antibodies, indicating he may have been infected, but which was never discovered as he was asymptomatic,” Khanna says.

In the fourth week of October, Khanna underwent a blood test on his own to check for antibodies as he was curious — double-blind trials mean neither the recipient nor the one administering the vaccine know if a person has got the medicine or a placebo. “I wanted to check whether I had developed antibodies against SARS-CoV2. Once the results indicated that, with a fair amount of masking and after RT-PCR tests at different airports, I went to Vaishno Devi,” Khanna smiles. For four days in mid-October, the family visited Amby Valley.

Dressed in a black sherwani with a red-colour jacket as he lights incense sticks for prayers at an apartment he owns in the city, Khanna says these days he and Ruupa are staying there as his son’s friends have come to stay at their bungalow. “As a precaution, we ensured that all the visitors underwent a RT-PCR test,” he says, trying to catch the score of the second India-Australia Test at Melbourne, playing on TV.

With 30 of his closest friends and family members taking his lead on the coronavirus trials, Khanna reflects, “The Covid pandemic and the subsequent lockdown gave me time to deal with personal issues that I had avoided for so long. I had a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and also who my true friends are.”

The only advice he has for people is patience, the 64-year-old adds. “The world will soon come back to normal, and like cleaning of odd specks of dust, the virus too will die. We need to trust the process and remain optimistic,” Khanna quips, as he offers his book Musings of a Medicine Man for a quick read of the chapter ‘Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost’.

Read more from The Indian Express series, ‘Silver Lining: A Yearbook’

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