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Shot in the arm for health workers: From facing harassment to being among the first to get vaccine


NEW DELHI: For Biji Tomy, a nurse who received the very first COVID-19 vaccine shot at the LNJP Hospital here on Saturday, it was a “historic moment” that helped her leave behind the unpleasant memories of her colleagues being harassed and taunted as “potential coronavirus carriers” in the early days of the pandemic.

Hailing from Kerala, the 48-year-old healthcare worker at the state-run facility told PTI, “When the pandemic outbreak happened in Delhi in March, everyone was afraid and uncertain about the future, and many doctors and nurses had to face harassment and taunts from neighbours in the initial days as ‘potential carriers of infection’, and some landlords had threatened to evict them.”

“But, today, we are getting applause and fellow citizens are hailing the healthcare workers,” she said, adding, “It is our moment of reckoning, I guess, which is very humbling.”

Several hundreds of healthcare workers, from doctors to sanitation workers at hospitals, were given shots of COVID-19 vaccine at 81 centres, after the world’s largest vaccination drive was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi across the country.

“We were only trying to do our job when the virus had just invaded our cities, and our country. We were not criminals that they subjected many of our fellow brothers and sisters to humiliation. But, it feels very relieving today. People have understood we were trying to save lives, putting our own lives at risk,” said Tomy, who hails from Idukki district in Kerala.

Many doctors, nurses, sanitation workers and other frontline staff have lost their lives in Delhi since the first cases of the pandemic was reported here on March 1.

The Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital, which was soon converted into a dedicated coronavirus facility and where over 10,000 COVID-19 patients have been treated so far, drew praise from both Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Health Minister Satyendar Jain.

Nurse Atmaja was administered a dose of Covishield in the presence of Kejriwal who visited the facility in the afternoon and interacted with a few healthcare workers.

At the hospital’s vaccination centre, beneficiaries were warmly greeted with a rose after administrating a shot and red carpet had been laid outside the main OPD Block of the facility to welcome them.

As they exited the vaccination area post 30-minute mandatory observation, their colleagues and staff of the vaccination team cheered and clapped with a sense of solidarity.

Among the doctors, who received the shots on the first day of the roll-out was Farah Husain, an anaesthesia specialist and one of the in-charges of the COVID ICU ward.

“Pride is quite natural, and tremendous happiness, after all the hardships and deaths we have seen last year, as the city and the country fought the pandemic,” she said.

Asked if the unfair treatment meted out to several healthcare workers by their landlords or taunts made by neighbours in the beginning phase of the pandemic made her feel vindicated today, she said, “No, not at all.”

“Yes, it was wrong behaviour by them, but today being chosen as the first in line to get the vaccine shots, we feel humbled and it emphasises our sense of purpose, and of the spirit of servitude for humanity which our profession teaches,” she said.

Husain, who still recalls a large number of patients dying in ICU at the height of the pandemic, hopes the vaccination drive will help create a veil of protection for the rest of the population, by developing “herd immunity” in the vaccinated people.

While nurse Tomy was the first person to get the shot at the LNJP Hospital, Central District Programme Officer Puneet Jaitley was the second person to get the shot at the British-era hospital.

Naveen Kumar from LNJP Hospital’s administration department who also took the jab said he felt a “sense of blessing”.

“During the peak COVID time, I worked here wearing a PPE kit, and it was very tough. Society would see us a potential carriers of infection, and my own neighbourhood in Burari was a containment zone for some time,” he said.

“We owe our lives to these doctors and nurses, they are the true corona warriors, and we salute them,” Kumar said.

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