In Kashmir, Doctors Taking First Shot to Allay Vaccine Fears

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 Doctors taking Covid shot in SMHS. KO Pics by Marila Latif

But amid public skepticism, only a quarter of health beneficiaries invited for immunization showed up during the third phase of the vaccination drive restricted for emergency use against the Covid-19 pandemic in various centers across Jammu and Kashmir. 

 By Marila Latif

AMID growing paranoia and panic, Mohammad Shafi, a 30-year-old dentist in Shreen Bagh Dental College, Srinagar signed up as the 20th health beneficiary in SMHS hospital for taking the Covid shot.

But before being jabbed, he asked a few questions in hesitation, “Since I’m diabetic, is this vaccine safe for me? I also have hypertension, can I really take the vaccine?”

After getting assurance from the doctors, he took the vaccine and joined other participants — kept under observation for an hour to monitor any Adverse Effects Following Immunization (AEFI).

Every vaccine made for any disease has its side-effects, Dr Saleem Khan, Head of the Department Community Medicine, Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, told Kashmir Observer.

“And it’s very common,” Dr Khan said. “It’s actually the stimulation of the human body towards a drug like fever, chills, headaches etc, but it’s not something to be afraid of.”

Dr. Shafi wasn’t alone to take the vaccine shot. His colleague, 29-year-old dentist, Owais Gowher, was following him as the 21st participant.

“I feel a slight pain on my shoulder, nothing else,” Dr Owais told Kashmir Observer.

“We don’t know how many more mutated variants are coming – it’s better to take the cure beforehand,” he said and smiled.

But amid public skepticism, only a quarter of health beneficiaries invited for immunization showed up during the third phase of the vaccination drive restricted for emergency use against the Covid-19 pandemic in various centers across Jammu and Kashmir.

Veteran doctors were seen taking the lead to dismiss myths and debunking accountability surrounding the vaccine.

Dr. AG Ahanger, Director SKIMS, and Dr Bilqees Shah, Head of JLNM Hospital in Srinagar, volunteered as the first participants.

Atal Dullo, Health Medical Commissioner, told Kashmir Observer that the administration’s target is to vaccinate one lakh sixty thousand health workers first.

“And we have identified 40 centers across J&K for that -20 in each division,” Dullo said.

“Currently,” he added, “we are facing few technical issues related to the CovidApp which is scheduling the vaccination drive. Once the application is fixed – we will be able to invite more health workers for the shot.”

The vaccination drive started in SHMS on Tuesday with Dr. Altaf Hussain from Dental College Srinagar taking the first shot.

During the first vaccination drive in SMHS Hospital’s Block F, the nodal officers administering the drive were calling the health workers from a list given to them in which many were unavailable.

“We have been given an estimation of 100 beneficiaries per day and today out of 100, 25 got vaccinated,” Dr Ruqaiya, Nodal officer, GMC Srinagar, told Kashmir Observer.

“We refrained to vaccinate two others as they developed contra indications like food, skin and medical allergies,” she added.

On January 4, the Drug Controller General of India approved the emergency use of two vaccines: Covaxin—locally produced by Bharat Biotech, and Covishield—produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India.

The veracity on the authorization of vaccines with little transparency, however, remains highly debatable among the experts and public.

Even the twin vaccine manufacturers—Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India—released a fact-sheet on Tuesday, saying that the vaccines cannot be administered on those who are immune compromised, or are on a medication.

The statement comes after a week of vaccine delivery in J&K.

With a recovery rate of 96.80% and 2,041 active cases, J&K received 1.46 lakh doses of the (Covishield) vaccines on Wednesday, in which 79000 were dispatched to Kashmir and 67500 were given to Jammu.

Concerned officials in the Serum Institute of India told Kashmir Observer that the efficacy rate of the Covishield vaccine is 70% and that it will be—“hopefully”—approved by World Health Organization (WHO) in coming three weeks.

Pfizer, the only vaccine approved by the WHO on 31st December 2020 for emergency use poses a big challenge for its delivery in the developing nations like India.

Experts say it needs super-cold temperature—minus 70 degree Celsius—to sustain, and the cold chain shipping would be very difficult to maintain.

“Usually, a vaccine is prepared in 4 years, and the process is executed in three set of trails,” Dr. Waseem Ahmad, associate professor and vigilance officer in GMC, Srinagar, told Kashmir Observer.

“In the first trail, scientists check the possibilities of life-threatening elements. In the second trail, complications get tested. And in third trail, the presence and numbers of antibodies are ensured. It is mandatory to have human participation in the third and final trail.”

Dr Saima Rashid, GMC Principal, told Kashmir Observer that the vaccination drive is in its third phase, “and the trail has been proved effective so far”.

However, dragging their feet from the vaccination drive, some doctors feel the vaccine is not trustworthy.

Dr Raja Aijaz, a valley-based doctor, told Kashmir Observer that many deaths have been reported in foreign countries after being vaccinated with Pfizer and other vaccines.

“Several have developed severe adverse effects after three days of immunization and I personally don’t feel like taking it because there are no studies available,” Dr. Aijaz said.

Another medico said that he doesn’t trust the vaccine “because it’s not WHO approved”.

“23 people died a day ago in Norway after being vaccinated with Pfizer vaccine. Tell me how can I trust a non- approved vaccine?” he asked.

But, the State Immunization officer, Dr Qazi Haroon told Kashmir Observer that Pulwama in Kashmir and Samba in Jammu are the leading districts getting vaccination in J&K, followed by Rajouri, Udhampur, Poonch, Ramban, Reasi, Budgam, Jammu, Shopain and Kishtwar.

“We want to run the drive very smoothly and subsequently, we will execute the social mobilization of health workers without any pressure,” Dr Haroon said. “There is no time frame for the process as of now.”

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