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Hesitancy persists over Covaxin but doctors still take shots as ‘vaccination the only way out’

Doctors in Assam, Maharashtra, Haryana say there’s no reason to not take Covaxin. But some AIIMS doctors in Delhi say they want to wait for the safety and efficacy data.

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New Delhi: Doubts and anxiety continued over the efficacy of India’s home-grown Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, but doctors and healthcare workers across the country still went ahead and took the shots as vaccination seems to be the “only way out”.

Covaxin is a collaborative effort between Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, known for its low-cost vaccines, and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The vaccine was mired into a controversy after the country’s apex drug regulator, Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), gave “conditional nod” for its rollout despite incomplete phase 3 trial data.

In 11 states across India, both vaccines — Covaxin and Covishield, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and manufactured by Serum Institute of India — were administered Saturday. The states are Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Odisha and Telangana. 

While doctors in Maharashtra and Assam told ThePrint that they trust both the vaccines, doctors in Delhi showed reluctance to take Covaxin shots.

In Haryana also, doctors expressed confidence in taking Covaxin shots except in Karnal region, where municipal healthcare workers staged a protest saying they were not “guinea pigs” to be experimented upon. 

N. Ramaswami, Commissioner, National Health Mission, Maharashtra, told ThePrint, “It is a safe vaccine…The only thing is that it is still under trial. We have given a fact sheet of the status of the vaccine to every beneficiary besides the consent form. Since people getting the vaccine are doctors, they are well aware of the background of the vaccine.” 

Before getting the Covaxin shot, it is mandatory for the vaccinator to get the “informed consent form” signed by the beneficiary. 

The consent form comes along with a screening form and a fact sheet about the vaccination. The fact sheet will clearly describe the recipient that the vaccine is still in the trial phase and its efficacy is yet to be established.

The consent form says that in case a causal relationship is established between the adverse event and the vaccination, the company would compensate the recipient.

Meanwhile, a doctor at AIIMS said on condition of anonymity, “Around 150 of 11,500 healthcare workers were registered to receive vaccination, and at least 100 backed out last minute after they were told only Covaxin will be given at AIIMS.” 

He said, “Some workers even switched off their phones as they felt they were being pushed too hard to get the vaccine shot.”

Another AIIMS doctor said he is “apprehensive” about Covaxin but his colleagues wished to get Covishield as its safety data is available in the public domain. 

“Many of us have already suffered from Covid and hence we’re not willing to take vaccines unnecessarily. We want to wait for safety and efficacy data,” he added.

Also read: Doubts over vaccines loom large on day one, govt officials say turnout to pick up eventually

‘Have faith in the vaccination’

At Mumbai’s JJ Hospital, the first person to take the Covaxin shot was the dean of the hospital, Dr Ranjit Mankeshwar.

“The BMC circulated a list of doctors who were to be given the shot on Saturday and my name was on it. There was no reason to not take the vaccine. I am convinced that it is safe. As a dean, taking it first also sets an example for others. I would like to tell people to have faith in the vaccination,” he said.

Similarly, in Assam, doctors were comfortable being given Covaxin.  

Dr Abhijit Sarma, medical superintendent, Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, told ThePrint, “It feels awesome, a feel-good factor. I request all to come forward and take a shot.” 

Dr Bibhas Chandra Goswami, director of State Cancer Institute, and Dr Brajendra Lahkar, chief consultant at Health City Hospital, also took Covaxin shots.

Dr Binod Kumar Gogoi, a senior physician at a tea garden in Dibrugarh district, said, “I feel safe after taking the vaccine, and after the second dose, I hope to be fully protected against Covid-19. I appeal to all to come forward and get vaccinated and make themselves, their families and the nation safe.”

Dr Varinder Yadav, civil surgeon Gurugram, who is among those who received Covaxin, also said he was feeling absolutely fine. 

“A lot of hullabaloo has been generated around the vaccine while this exercise should be actually considered as routine as getting any other vaccine. When we normally do not bother about the science or the technology behind the other vaccines that we have been using for decades, why should there be anything special about this one? The scientists have done their job well and we should trust them,” he said. 

Doctors reluctant, but went ahead to motivate others 

Doctors at central government hospitals in the national capital said they were apprehensive about receiving Covaxin shots initially, but gathered confidence soon to encourage others.  

Dr Somider Lamba, one of the recipients of the Covaxin shot at RML Hospital, said, “I was quite nervous and had initially thought I won’t take the shot after I learnt only Covaxin is being given.”

“However, I realised someone from the team will have to take the lead and I realised, I will do this for my family since at the end of the day, vaccination is the only way out.”

Similarly, several other doctors went ahead to get the shot to motivate their colleagues. 

Dr A.K. Rana, medical superintendent at RML, told ThePrint: “I decided to take the shot after I saw there was a lot of anxiety among people about taking the vaccine. Hence, I decided to go ahead hoping that it may motivate them.” 

The doubts over the efficacy of the vaccine dominated the minds of nurses as well. 

Rama Kant, a nurse at RML, who was initially refused vaccination by the staff after she said she was breastfeeding, told ThePrint, “I have to say this, I am actually relieved because a part of me was doing this out of professional compulsion but we all have concerns about Covaxin’s efficacy.”

Also read: Hospital chiefs take lead on Covid vaccine drive launch, no major plaints from first recipients


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