India, era of the pandemic, 2020. Despondence, desperation, rumours and hearsay. “What do we do to safeguard ourselves from COVID 19?” “Will there ever be a vaccine?” “Will we ever be safe from this virus?”
India, pre 01 March 2021. Intense anticipation and speculation, heated discussions, sweeping opinions… “Will the vaccine(s) against COVID 19 be effective? Let us refer to this study or that study, let us see what happens in UK!” “Can we afford to take the vaccine?” “I am safe, I need not take the vaccine”….”Doctor, which Vaccine should I take?”
India, post 01 Mar 2021. Frantic rush to vaccination centres, First Day First Show mindset (this refers to those people who simply love to watch a new Bollywood movie on its first screening, to get bragging rights!) , Irritation and frustration at technical glitches in COWIN system, Anger at being deprived of the opportunity to flaunt wealth to get priority or VIP vaccination ! “The COWIN registration is not happening!” “There are no appointment slots available for me!” “I am safe, I need not take the vaccine”….”Doctor, which Vaccine should I take?” “Why cant I get it now, I deserve to get it and I can afford it” “Will I get side effects?” “When can I get my next dose”
Well, we know all of the answers to all of the above rhetorical questions, as the ubiquitous Whatsapp and other tools of social media, have made these a part of our lives over the past couple of months. But do we have the correct answers?
I am a Public Health Specialist, let me not aver that I am an ‘expert’, let me just reassure you that I do not formulate my opinions, views and recommendations, based on an education through the University of Whatsapp. I do due diligence, and undertake a daily reading of the available and evolving literature on websites for professionals, and follow guidances issued periodically by the WHO, the Govt of India and CDC, USA, and then only formulate the aforementioned views and recommendations.
Should I take the COVID Vaccine at all ? I lead a ‘safe’ lifestyle and am careful! A no brainer this one. Just take the vaccine , whenever you get the opportunity to. Do not fight to be at the front of the line, there is enough vaccine under production to be available to all of the world (eventually). The vaccine will provide you “some” protection, do not bother yourself with percentages of effectiveness / efficacy, or waste effort to assiduously study the medical literature for clinical trial reports. Let people like me interpret these for you. Would you want the pilot of your plane to receive inputs on flight conditions from your local kirana (provisions) store chap ?
Based on current evidence , there is a strong likelihood that you will not get seriously sick if you are vaccinated and contract the COVID infection. Which means that you can still contract the infection, even if you are vaccinated. Hence the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the potential risks of the vaccine.
Avoiding Crowds, Crowded places and Close Contact, combined with ensuring adequate ventilation of places and spaces that you frequent are at present the only ways to keep yourself safe. Wear a mask , and frequently use sanitizer or simply wash your hands with soap and water, and you will be safer!
Which Vaccine should I take? Any vaccine that is made available to you! Thats the vaccine that you should take! In India presently, there is no choice that is available to the recipient between Covishield (Serum Institute) or Covaxin (Bharat Biotech). In the days to come, it is possible that there may be a larger number of vaccines available commercially, and then the matter of choice will arise. By then, there will be more scientific studies available, and more evidence will have been generated. As of now, as long as its a vaccine against COVID19, and has received regulatory approval, take whatever vaccine you can get. And for the second dose, make sure that you take the same vaccine.
Will I be “free” to mingle and be unmasked for who I am, after I get vaccinated? Well, there is no simple answer to this one. Till the entire world is ‘safe’, you can never be truly ‘safe’. Wisdom lies in exercising caution and moderating your exposure to potential infection.
Would you willingly step into a pit which has poisonous snakes ? Would you venture forth bravely into a crowded room not knowing whether the others are well or ill or vaccinated or not? Does a person being an asymptomatic carrier have any visible signs , which you can recognise easily?
President Biden in the USA has recently announced to his people that they can anticipate being ‘free’ to mingle by the 04th of July, subject to many ifs and buts, with a full coverage with vaccine of the entire population at risk, being the most crucial. Would you like to take a chance with mingling maskless and in close proximity, breathing the same air as potentially infected individuals….. Remember, the vaccine does not safeguard you from getting infected with the coronavirus! It merely reduces the likelihood of a serious illness. You and others who are vaccinated can still get infected and transmit coronavirus to others!!
As a rough guide a recent release from the CDC USA gives us some insights to make an informed decision on our life ahead in the immediate future, after getting vaccinated .. Interpret this diagram with caution please.
My summary recommendation for a post vaccine life (for the first few weeks at least, till our experts are able to study the situation and issue updated guidances) remain the same….. Whether you are vaccinated or not , continue avoiding Crowds, Crowded places and Close Contact, combined with insisting on and ensuring adequate ventilation of places and spaces that you frequent. Consistently wear a mask and insist on others covering their nose and mouth when around you, frequently use sanitizer or simply wash your hands with soap and water, and you will be safer!
In subsequent parts of this ongoing narration, I will address other queries and concerns. Please share this post with your friends and relatives and enable them to get information that is up to date and relevant.
In case you have any specific queries or concerns which you feel will benefit the larger population to be informed about, please post in the Comments section below and I will address in subsequent posts.