Its been over two months since I last posted here! I had two journeys in the mean time - their travelogues would be coming up soon - pardon me for the delay, more due to complete lack of time. I've been quite busy with my official life over the past two months, and been working without a break. I thought of penning down my experience of undergoing Covid vaccine, as I got some time away from the hectic work life.
Covid hit us badly - very badly. Covid vaccines were seen as messiahs of return to normalcy. It is debatable if the vaccines would allow return to "normalcy" or not - as a Healthcare professional, I'd say they'd certainly play a role in return to "normalcy". We've seen countries removing the requirement of having to wear a mask as majority of their population got vaccinated, and we've also seen countries reinforcing the mask requirement as the infection spread rapidly with the population shunning masks.
Meanwhile, my home state made it mandatory to wear two masks (or a medical grade N95 mask). Recent newspaper reports claim there has been a sharp decline in cases of upper respiratory tract infections, with majority of the population adhering to mask policies. My home state has been under an attack for its alleged "incompetence" at controlling infections - all this when people in the state have been disciplined and still take masks very seriously. It isn't uncommon to see shopkeepers, bus conductors, health care professionals get into tiff with people not wearing masks properly. Let me not get into what went right, and what went wrong - but as a professional associated with delivery of health care services, I'd only say we have a very competent team of professionals who have been toiling hard since March 2020 to keep this damn virus under control, and they (we) still work hard day-and-night to keep the rest of the population safe.
Coming back to the vaccination story. It was in May 2021 that the government opened up vaccination for the general public. My general public, I mean the adult population, who are neither classified as vulnerable nor belong to the community of frontline workers. The vaccine rollout was embroiled in controversies related to the lack of stock, payment requirements, and sheer politics played by different states. Towards the end of May 2021, the government opened up free vaccination to all - but every state played its own game to reduce the number of "free" doses.
My first dose of the vaccine happened in end of June 2021. I received the AstraZeneca-Oxford University-Serum Institute product, Covishield. Since my home-state hadn't opened 'free' doses to the general public at that time (a new "priority" policy was introduced by the state, wherein only people with co-morbidities were selected for the 'free' dose), I had to get my first dose from a private facility. I would not disclose the details of the facility for various reasons. The facility charged the cost of the vaccine (the government approved price per dose) plus an administration charge, totaling up to Rs. 1000 per dose.
The positives of this vaccination was - there were no long queues. My parents had to spend almost 2 hours in a queue to get a "token" at the vaccination centre, and then another hour and a half to get their dose - all this despite having an appointment booked through the Government's Co-WIN portal. There was just one computer operator who did the verification of identity and updated 'attendance' - this caused some delay, and a queue formed as we finished. Although there wasn't a queue, there still was a waiting time to get my dose. The small waiting area had very limited seating facility, and social distancing was unheard of. This wasn't the case at the government hospital where my parents got their dose - a huge waiting hall was opened, and chairs were arranged keeping in mind distancing requirements.
After the short wait, we (TW also came along) were called to the vaccination room in batches of ten. The nurse at the vaccination desk casually told that we 'must' take a tablet of Paracetamol at night. After this, we were sent to another waiting area, where we had to sit for 30 minutes for observation. This observation area had about 12 chairs - no social distancing here either. We were allowed to leave after about 25 minutes - we chose to remain within the hospital premises till our 30 minutes was over. As we were exiting the facility, I noticed that the pre-vaccination waiting area was still crowded and the post-vaccination waiting area had spilled over to the nearby corridors as well.
Fast forward to September 2021 - time for the second dose. This time, vaccine availability was far better. The online appointment system became irrelevant as hospitals began allowing walk-in registrations. Crowds were low as the government set up vaccination camps at town halls or auditoriums. I booked an online appointment at a health facility a little away from home - and we (TW was along this time as well) reached there well before the vaccination started. This was a small Family Health Centre run by the state government. A register was maintained where you could list down your name - this ensured people were called on a "first come first served" basis. Tokens were issued a little before vaccination actually started.
People were called in based on the token number - this being a small health centre, they had placed chairs outside the building (there was steel-sheet roofing in the area) - all spaced, and well distanced. Two computer operators were present - this ensured that verification of identity happened quickly and 'attendance' on the Co-WIN portal was marked quickly. I was the first to receive the vaccination on that day - the nurse was very friendly. She explained why there was a delay in commencing the dosing, and casually spoke about my first dose as she administered the second dose. Another nurse guided us to the waiting area, and two tablets of Paracetamol was handed out to each vaccine recipient, and were counselled that we had to consume the tablet only if we had fever. A proper colour-coded biohazard waste bin was placed to dispose off the cotton swab as well. We could leave as we completed the 30 minutes. This dose was completely free!
The first hospital levied an additional fee over and above the cost of the vaccine (almost every private hospital does this - but even bigger chains restrict this fee to a small amount. The societal cause is a much bigger thing than profiteering at this point of time) - this cost was justified as a "consultation charge" plus the administration cost. The hospitals need to buy syringes and needles, plus cotton rolls/alcohol swab at their own cost - plus the cost incurred in disposing these 'biohazardous' medical waste. Charging an additional fee over the cost is justified. But how much is the question? What other facility is provided to the recipient to justify this added cost? I really wondered if the hospital would have incurred a loss had they dispensed two tablets of paracetamol to every recipient (Paracetamol is a price controlled product, available in the open market at a cost one rupee per tablet - hospitals get it much cheaper)?
The overall experience at the government hospital was much more matured and pleasing than the private hospital. The staff at the government hospital were very friendly - they went about their work with precision and perfection. Sanitizers were placed at every point of contact. The nurse administering the vaccine wore personal protective equipment as well. I found the government set up more professional & friendly at every step than the private hospital. People pay for better facilities - but when you get them absolutely free (you and me pay for all this through the taxes we pay), why should you head to a facility that prioritizes money over their societal responsibilities?
End of rant if you reached here! Private or Government, please get your shot! Even if the vaccine doesn't prevent you from getting infected, it certainly may help you remain alive even after the virus visits you!