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270 doctors died in Covid second wave, says IMA. Number would be higher without vaccines

Doctors say while vaccination helped in preventing mortalities, infection is continuing to spread owing to the nature of their profession.

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New Delhi: Despite being the first group of people vaccinated against Covid in the country, doctors have continued to fall prey to the disease. On Tuesday, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said that 270 doctors have died so far during the second Covid wave in the country, that began around March-April. The highest deaths have been in Bihar with 78 casualties, followed by Uttar Pradesh (37) and Delhi (29).

Despite the worrying death tally among medical practitioners in the second wave, several Delhi hospitals that ThePrint spoke to said that 80-90 per cent of their staff have been vaccinated, which has helped check further casualties.

Authorities at some hospitals said the percentage of vaccinated staff could have been higher, but initially, some doctors too had been hesitant to take the shots. Now, however, many of them are being vaccinated.

Without vaccinations, the number of deaths would have been higher, hospitals said. Doctors at these government and private hospitals that ThePrint spoke to said that while vaccination helped in preventing mortalities, infection is continuing to spread among doctors owing to the nature of their profession.

The IMA’s Delhi Branch said that it has now written to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to reduce working hours for doctors and enroll private practitioners, to ease the pressure on hospitals, to arrest the spread of the disease.

Also read: At least 60 Delhi doctors have died in 2nd Covid wave & families are left to pick up pieces

‘Doctors also humans, were hesitant to be vaccinated’

Government and private hospitals that ThePrint spoke to said that while there was vaccine hesitancy among doctors when the vaccination drive started in January, most of their staff have now been vaccinated. Authorities at the Delhi government-run Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, Ambedkar Nagar Hospital, Maulana Azad Medical College and Hospital (MAMC); and private hospitals, including Saroj Super Specialty Hospital told ThePrint that 80-90 per cent of their staff had been vaccinated.

However, complete vaccination of medical practitioners at these hospitals hasn’t been achieved yet owing to hesitancy towards vaccination, displayed by some doctors, they said.

“Doctors are human too. So there has been hesitancy initially when vaccination started, and even now among some, as many doctors have died despite being vaccinated. But despite that vaccination remains important and our remaining 20 per cent medical staff is getting vaccinated now,” said Dr B.L. Sherwal, medical director, Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital.

Hospitals said that owing to the high vaccination rates among doctors, many fatalities could be avoided.

“About 80-90 per cent doctors are vaccinated and a few residents are left. Because of this, while we have seen infections, there hasn’t been any instance of a doctor who has lost his life to the disease,” said an official at MAMC, who did not wish to be named.

Sir Ganga Ram Hospital too said that though around 50 of their doctors were infected, none succumbed to the disease.

“Delhi’s caseload was high this time, so our doctors weren’t spared either. At least 50 got infected, but they all recovered, because 90 per cent of our staff is vaccinated. Vaccine is like a helmet in an accident, it won’t prevent the accident, but it can save your life,” explained S.P. Byotra, chairman of the hospital.

Saroj Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the national capital, where doctors have lost their lives to Covid.

Dr Anil Kumar Rawat, a surgeon at the hospital, who had received both doses of the vaccine, passed away earlier this month after battling Covid. “Yes, we have lost Dr Rawat, but that has been the only death in the hospital among our staff. Around 80 staff members got infected, which included nurses and technicians, but they all recovered because 95 per cent of our staff is vaccinated,” said Dr Dhiraj Malik, medical superintendent, Saroj Hospital.

Also read: How this IAS officer, a former Chicago risk analyst, is making Tirunelveli oxygen-smart

‘High exposure’

Owing to the high exposure to the virus, doctors said that despite vaccination they have seen a high number of infections in the second wave. “The variants in India now are highly contagious, that’s why the infection is spreading very fast even among doctors. While vaccines are helpful, they don’t have 100 per cent efficacy, so infections are bound to happen, especially as vaccine efficacy against these new variants is also not fully known,” said the official at MAMC.

Doctors also said the deaths that have been reported among vaccinated doctors, have included those with comorbidities.

“Most of the doctors who have died had comorbid conditions. Along with that their high exposure to the virus, made them more vulnerable to the virus,” said Byotra.

In a bid to reduce the spread of infection among doctors, the IMA’s Delhi branch has written to Kejriwal, asking the government to allow them to start vaccinations at private nursing homes, for those doctors who have not been vaccinated yet.

“We can vaccinate doctors at private nursing homes which will help in protecting them. In addition, we have also asked the government to reduce working hours for doctors, so that their exposure [to the virus] can be reduced to some extent. The government can also rope in private practitioners to help out in government and private hospitals to ease the pressure,” said B.B. Wadhawa, president, IMA’s Delhi branch.

However, doctors across hospitals said that despite infections and deaths, vaccinations remain the only form of protection.

“It is a professional hazard of being a doctor that infection will be likely. While vaccination is not an insurance for no infection, it helps prevent deaths. So we urge everyone to get vaccinated,” said Byotra.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: J&J knew of risks at Baltimore plant months before vaccine got contaminated: Washington Post


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