‘Don’t want to be guinea pigs’: Most govt hospital health workers in Delhi refuse to take COVID-19 vaccine

‘A majority of us do not want to be guinea pigs. Most of us have decided to wait, though we all gave our names,” said a health worker at AIIMS

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy Social Media)

Ashlin Mathew

Ahead of the COVID-19 vaccination drive set to begin on January 16 across the country, it has come to light that less than 30% of health workers (doctors, nurses, lab technicians and paramedical staff) in six government-run hospitals in Delhi have opted-in for the vaccination. Most health workers submitted their details three weeks ago, but during confirmation calls made during the last two days, most have opted out.

National Herald spoke to health workers working in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital (RML), Safdarjung Hospital, Lok Nayak Hospital and Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital.

At AIIMS, RML and Safdarjung Hospitals, health workers will be administered Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine, while at the other two hospitals, Covishield vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India will be administered. Covishield will be administered at 75 centres while Covaxin doses will be given at the remaining six facilities.

According to sources, at AIIMS, 150 health workers are on the first list of the 12,000 employees at the Hospital. However, of these, less than 50 of them have agreed to get the vaccine on January 16. While phones of several health workers were switched off, some of those who opted out said that they have already recovered from Covid-19. Others said they were not in the city.

“We are not against the vaccine. I will tell everyone to take the vaccine, but I am not yet ready to take a vaccine for which the trials have not even been completed. A majority of us do not want to be guinea pigs. This is going to be the largest trial. Most of us have decided to wait, though we all gave our names,” said a health worker at AIIMS.

At Lok Nayak Hospital, less than 75 health workers have signed up to be vaccinated on January 16. Of these, 58 are doctors, 11 nurses, six paramedical staff and two support staff. As some of them are above the age of 50, they have been removed from the list. Most doctors on the list are senior residents and post-graduate students.

“ list of 100 beneficiaries have been prepared,” said Dr Suresh Kumar, Medical Director of the central Delhi-based hospital.

Asked if his own name was on the list, Dr Kumar said that 4,000 health workers from Lok Nayak Hospital had given their names for vaccination. “I don’t know if my name is on the list. The names are randomly generated. No one knows whose names are on the list. It will come from the District Surveillance Officer,” he contended.

On January 11, Dr Kumar had sent an official order stating that the head of all the departments had to provide the names of the healthcare personnel (with their mobile numbers) who wanted to take the COVID-19 vaccine on a voluntary basis on the first day of vaccination. The names had to be submitted to his office by January 12.

‘Don’t want to be guinea pigs’: Most govt hospital health workers in Delhi refuse to take COVID-19 vaccine

At least 320 doses of Covishield have reached the hospital and COVID-19 vaccination will be held on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will oversee the inoculation drive at the hospital even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches the process across the nation with a video address.

According to the Health Ministry, 8,100 health care workers are supposed to receive the vaccination when the campaign kicks off at 175 centres on January 16. Delhi has received 2,74,500 doses of Covishield vaccine and 20,000 doses of Covaxin.

At RML Hospital, where 100 health workers were supposed to be administered the vaccine, the situation is different. Several health workers including doctors at the hospital had written to the Prime Minister’s Office stating that they do not want to be vaccinated. In the letter, they requested the PM to ensure the trials were completed and the data released. None of the health workers wanted to be named.

Less than 50% of the staff at Safdarjung Hospital, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Central government, have registered for the vaccination. Of these, doctors appeared to be more willing to get inoculated, followed by health workers and then nurses.

The numbers at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital are not known yet, but a majority of the workers have shared their reluctance at being administered the vaccine in the first few rounds of the vaccination drive. National Herald spoke to at least 20 of the staff members at GTB Hospital, all of whom said they will wait it out until they are sure of the results.

There is also trouble brewing at the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. The agitating health workers employed there have said that they will not cooperate in the vaccination drive until their salaries were cleared. Nurses, support staff, para-medical workers and sanitation staff have been on a strike since January 7 as they have not been paid their salaries for at least three months. Some of the workers have not been paid for five months.

Who will get the vaccine?

According to a letter issued by Dr Manohar Agnani, Additional Secretary at the National Health Mission, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, vaccination is indicated only for those aged above 18 years.

The letter underscores that pregnant and lactating mothers were not part of any COVID-19 vaccination trial so far, so women who are pregnant or not sure of their pregnancy should not receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccination will also be deferred in persons with past history of SARS-CoV-2 infection or RT-PCR positive illness, history of chronic diseases and morbidities, immune-deficient and HIC patients, and those on immune-suppression medication.

In appearance, Covishield should be clear to slightly opaque, colourless to slightly brown, while Covaxin should be be whitish translucent. Vials of both the vaccines have to be discarded if they are found to be frozen or frozen and thawed.

In the case of Covishield, an adverse event following immunisation (AEFI) can include injection site tenderness, headache, fatigue, myalgia (muscle pain), malaise, pyrexia (increased body temperature), nausea, chills and arthalgia (joint pain). The Ministry’s note suggests that paracetamol could be used to provide temporary symptomatic relief from post-vaccination adverse reaction.

The note from the Health Ministry contends that Covishield vaccine should be given with caution to people with thrombocytopenia (a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of platelets)

After Covaxin is administered, there could be mild AEFI such as headache, fatigue, fever, body ache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, abdominal pain, tremor, sweating, cold and cough. But, no medication has been recommended to provide temporary relief.

Meanwhile, in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association (TNGDA) has recommended that the doctors must insist on Covishield vaccine till the phase-3 results of Covaxin are out. The TNGDA sought opinions of three independent specialists on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines on offer and then released an advisory on the issue.

“Covishield has completed phase 3 human trials and has published the results. On the other hand, Covaxin is yet to complete the phase 3 trials and come out with the results. Covishield has shown good immunogenicity,” the note said.

However, the Health Ministry stated that the beneficiaries do not have the option to choose.

Tamil Nadu has received 5,36,500 doses of Covishield and 20,000 doses of Covaxin.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines

Published: 15 Jan 2021, 9:00 PM