The last time I saw Dad was through the Plexiglas porthole on the door of the ambulance that was taking him to the hospital. For a decade and a half, my father suffered from various ailments that our best medical knowledge could be dull, but silently painful that could not be eliminated. When the epidemic came upon us, depending on his other medical conditions, he was extra vigilant about masking and staying indoors. It came as a shock to us when he tested positive. However, since he is just one dose short of full vaccine immunity, we are hopeful that he will return home beyond a short-term job in hospital.
The second wave began when Dad was hospitalized. Even then, hospitals are dealing with an increasing number of patients, which are becoming a tidal wave, depleting our national medical oxygen reserves and reducing the supply of critical .drugs. Much has been said about this disaster, so I will not sprinkle another ink on this subject — unless your loved one is sick, it is impossible to understand how brutal it can be. And to remind you that the earth is as bad as it seems to be standing at zero, it is clear to me that things will only get worse before they get better.
Much has been written about how we got here — complacency, incompetence, and misrepresentation of political priorities. But now is not the time for post mortem. Our medical infrastructure is being torn down and we need to find a way to prevent rot. If our only effective strategy for the survival of Kovid in India is not in the first place, then we must focus our energy on making sure that the infected are safe so that they do not put too much pressure on us.
Unlike last year, when the virus first touched us, we had vaccines that would give us the best immunity and, worse, slow down the full force of the disease. Furthermore, the country’s vaccine intake in the early months was disappointing. Although the second wave has prompted more people to join the vaccine queues, many are skeptical, making excuses ranging from conspiracy theories to fears of a rare blood clot about the evil of Big Pharma. Since this column has never come forward to eliminate conspiracy theories, I am going to skip earlier and focus on the risk of blood clots.
According to the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, of the more than 200 million people worldwide who have received the estrogen vaccine (hereby called Kovshield), very few suffer from coagulation, which is the link between the vaccine and the anticoagulant effect “unacceptable”. According to UK data, only one in a million people vaccinated is likely to die. This means that even if every last person in India gets a shot, only 1,300 people will have fatal side effects.
Of all my friends who were vaccinated, one suffered from a micro stroke and another experienced an inexplicable burning sensation in his chest that he had to be treated for thinning blood. Although they could not confirm the causal relationship, the doctors reasonably concluded that both episodes were vaccine-related. If I know two people who have reported serious vaccine side effects, the risk must necessarily be greater than publicity.
At the end of the day, every time a portion of the virus is presented to your body to boost immunity — as happens with the estrogen vaccine — there is always a risk of immune failure. But we must remember that this is nothing compared to the risk of exposing our bodies to pathogens altogether.
But there are other factors to consider. We know that Kovid affects the elderly unequally. On the other hand, most of the youth were able to cope with the disease with minimal medical help. Similarly, the risk of exposing young people to vaccine-related blood clots and other problems makes us question whether it is worthwhile if their body has the innate ability to overcome the disease.
Unfortunately, the narrative evidence suggests that India’s second wave was an equal opportunity offender, hospitalizing young and old alike. The doctors I spoke to told me that, if anything, more young people are dying this time than the elderly. That is, when the government opens the vaccine for everyone over the age of 18 on May 1, I hope a large number of young people will appear.
Collecting the supply of oxygen and life-saving drugs and accelerating the setting up of Kovid care facilities, intensive care and isolation facilities for serious cases are nothing to divert attention from all that needs to be done immediately, from mild to moderate cases to telemedicine and home health care. As we work to reduce our damaged infrastructure to help the sick and dying, we must not forget that it is equally important to keep healthy people away from the hospital. We cannot allow vaccine skepticism to come this way.
Dad never came back home. His weak body was unable to weather the devastation of the disease. In his case, not only did he get all the medical help he needed, I am just thankful for everything his doctors at Ramayana Hospital did for him. However, I wonder how different things might be if he caught an infection after he took his second dose.
The Rahul Mathan trilogy also features a partner and a podcast called Ex Machina. His Twitter handle @Matton