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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

‘No longer scared’: One year since Day 1, Shot 1

🔴 On January 16, 2021, more than three months before the devastating second wave, when vaccinating the entire population looked more in the realm of fancy, they were among the 48,276 persons who got the first weapon against the pandemic

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty , Anonna Dutt | Mumbai, New Delhi |
Updated: January 17, 2022 6:32:35 am
COVID-19, Mumbai, New Delhi, Bombay Hospital, AIIMS, Covid, Covid-19, Covid vaccine, Covid-19 vaccine, vaccination, jabs, shots, coronavirus, coronavirus vaccine, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsThe first dose recipients in Delhi (left) and Mumbai (Express)

ONE IS a doctor, the other a sanitation worker in a hospital.

On January 16, 2021, more than three months before the devastating second wave, when vaccinating the entire population looked more in the realm of fancy, they were among the 48,276 persons who got the first weapon against the pandemic: the first dose on the first day of India’s Covid vaccination campaign.

Dr Gautam Bhansali, a consultant physician at Bombay Hospital, was the first beneficiary in Mumbai to get the jab at the BKC jumbo centre. In Delhi, Manish Kumar, 35, a sanitation worker at AIIMS, became the first person in the national capital to get the Covid vaccine.

Today, exactly a year later, both are deeply aware and grateful that the vaccine — and luck — has helped them keep the infection at bay as the pandemic raged in its second wave and now rides a third.

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“I am no longer scared,” said Kumar, who stays with his wife, mother and brother in Najafgarh in southwest Delhi.

On January 10, 2022, Kumar would have been the first to get the precautionary booster dose, too, if not for the duty chart at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

“I got a call from the hospital to again be the first, to get the third dose. My duty, however, starts at 1 pm so I could not reach early morning. But I ensured that I took my third dose that day itself,” said Kumar, who got the Covaxin jab.

In Mumbai, Bhansali is scheduled to get the third dose this week. He lives with his wife and two sons, aged 14 and 6, in a housing society in Wadala.

“During the start of the pandemic, I wouldn’t be at home at all. Later, upon my sons’ request, I started returning home. I would directly rush to the bathroom and take a shower in warm water before mingling with the family. But until I got the first dose, I stayed in a separate room and always ate alone at the dining table,” he said.

It was only in January the next year that he hugged his family warmly after getting the first dose of Covishield.

Recalling the ferocity of the first wave in Mumbai in 2020, with nearly 11,000 lives lost, Bhansali said that despite wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) round the clock, several doctors around him contracted Covid in the line of duty. “I would get frantic calls from my wife and children every day, asking about my health,” he said.

“I had to face discrimination, too. Several members of our housing society thought I would infect others. They asked me not to visit my family, But later, when I saved the lives of some of the society members who were infected, they opened their arms,” he said.

sAccording to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), nearly 2,000 doctors have succumbed to Covid in India, and almost 90 per cent of the over 10 lakh registered doctors have taken the vaccine.

“Initially, like other healthcare workers, I presumed that the pandemic would be over soon. That was a while ago. But I am still hopeful. It was because of the vaccine that the infection rate among the healthcare workers dropped drastically in the second wave,” Bhansali said.

The doctor’s duty didn’t end with the hospital, however. He started a helpline number with a group of other doctors to spread vaccine awareness, and “received 10-15 calls daily” about vaccination.

“With so much misinformation going on social media that vaccines can cause infertility and other health complications, many shied away from taking the jab. So, we also went door-to-door to counsel the citizens,” he said.

According to Bhansali, he also raised funds through his NGO Golden Hour Foundation for the vaccination of slum dwellers in Mumbai, including a camp in Dharavi. The NGO later roped in Ajanta Pharma, World Trade Centre and others who chipped in with their CSR funds. “We have come a long way,” he said.

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In Delhi, Kumar received his first dose at a time when even doctors were apprehensive, as the clinical trial data had not been made public.

“Many of my co-workers refused to take the shot on the first day, especially after a security guard needed hospitalisation following a severe allergic reaction the same day. But after everyone saw that nothing had happened to me, around 40 others came forward later to get the vaccine,” he said.

Kumar then convinced his mother and later his wife and brother, who works with Indigo Airlines, to get the vaccine. His family has got the second dose, too.

Recalling the second wave of April-May last year, when Delhi recorded over 13,000 Covid deaths, Kumar says he witnessed the difference the vaccines made.

“I saw many people who had been vaccinated get admitted to the hospital, but they got better quickly and were discharged. Those who were not vaccinated, on the other hand, had to be given oxygen and stayed in the hospital for longer,” he said.

But the pressure, Kumar says, was crushing.

“Everyone was scared about their own and their family’s well-being. Initially, even I was scared of going into the isolation ward when we did not know much about the disease,” he said.

In Mumbai, Bhansali says his younger son was only four when the pandemic started, and has hardly got to mingle with the father in the last two years. “But he never complains. He proudly calls me Superman,” he said.

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