Healthcare workers view the COVID-19 vaccine as a source of power, happiness, hope and satisfaction as they rule out misconceptions associated with it


At around 10:00 am on January 28, 56-yearold Bhadra Bahadur KC was sitting under a tent set up on the premises of Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital (STIDH), Teku, holding his vaccine card.

KC had just received the first shot of Covishield vaccine, and in return got the card as proof of the vaccination. An Office Assistant at National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), KC is among the 430,000 people who are getting inoculated in the first phase of the vaccination campaign that Nepal rolled out on January 27. On the first day 9,084 people received Astra- Zeneca's Covishield shots, giving hope and happiness to recipients. There are 15 immunisation centres across the three districts of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur in the Valley. Nepal received one million doses of vaccine under grant assistance from India.

Assurance of safety

For KC the vaccine is an assurance of his survival against COVID-19. "I have been constantly transporting swabs of suspected COVID-19-infected people for testing since day one of the identification of the first COVID-19 case in Nepal. That has deepened my fear of getting infected too.

As such I haven't even been able to spend time with my family," he shared.

Like KC, his 39-year-old colleague Laxmi Deula too was happy to put the constant fear of getting COVID-19 infection to rest as she received her first shot of the vaccine at the same venue. "I was infected with COVID-19 twice and it had been really difficult. The vaccine is here and my fear has vanished," shared Deula, one of the cleaning staff at NPHL.

The excitement and happiness of Dr Tara Sharma, 51, Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Officer at STIDH was no less.

Elated after getting the vaccine, she expressed in a loud voice, "Now I am fully assured that I will survive. Now nobody has to die from COVID-19."

With the fear of COVID-19 looming everywhere, Dr Shanker Pandey, OPD In- Charge at STIDH, regards the vaccine as a source of power to continue his work. He got that power when he received the first dose of the shot on January 27. "I had never imagined the vaccine will be available this soon and that I will get vaccinated,'' he expressed.

Being hopeful Dr Pandey, who is also in charge of the immunisation programme at the hospital, reminisced, "During my work, I got infected with COVID-19. I am a patient of heart and have had a heart attack too. Though I am the in charge of OPD at the hospital, I didn't get a bed for myself during that time. Now I am hopeful that I won't have to face the same situation again."

Waiting for turn

The government is vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, cleaning staff as well as security personnel among others in the first phase of the vaccination drive. As such some have got their shots, while some are waiting for their turn.

One waiting for her turn is Rekha Bhatta, Emergency Health Officer at the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS).

Bhatta, who was found recording the history of vaccine recipients for the day at the same venue on January 28, shared, "I have seen the terror caused by COVID-19.

I was part of the COVID-19 support team throughout these months and I have felt the fear. The vaccine has come as a blessing."

Her application to get the shot is being processed and she is "eagerly waiting for my first dose of the vaccine".

Then there was a time when Anita Datheputhe, a nurse at Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital, Bhaktapur sought protection from COVID-19 in PPE. But the news of Covishield vaccination campaign in Nepal has brought her relief.

"The vaccine will help us perform our work confidently even while getting exposed to patients in the hospital. We are also happy that the government is doing this free vaccination campaign starting from frontline workers,"said Datheputhe, who however is sad she is unable to get the shot as she is currently in her postnatal period.

However, Rabina Kayati, a staff nurse at the hospital is in a dilemma. "We are excited to get the vaccine, but we are discussing whether to take it or not as it is said there are mutations in the coronavirus and thus the vaccine made for it won't work in the new variant. The new variant has been seen in Nepal too. We are confused whether the vaccine generates immunity to battle against that new variant of the coronavirus or not."

Get the shot. It's safe.

Dismissing all rumours and misconceptions about the Covishield vaccine that Nepal has been using, Dr Pandey said, "The vaccine is safe to use. Since years, we have been giving vaccines such as Rabishield manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. I believe in the company and there are no serious complications."

The Covishield vaccine has been produced by the Serum Institute of India.

Currently, the STIDH is conducting its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 with a team of eight health professionals including volunteers from the NRCS. On January 27, the hospital vaccinated a total of 108 people.

According to Dr Pandey, a few healthcare workers at the hospital who were vaccinated have developed minor side effects like fever, headache and nausea.

"But most of them are fine now," he informed and stressed, "In case of side effects, we are ready to treat any individual."

Dr Rabi Shakya, Director of Patan Hospital pointed out, "Whenever a new thing, especially related to the medical sector, is used for the first time, there is usually confusion among people and it's a common thing.

The vaccine (Covishield) is here after passing through Phase-3 trials, which means it has already been tested on humans. So, there isn't a thing to worry about regarding the vaccine."

The vaccine has been developed by a team of scientists at the University of Oxford, meaning it's highly credible, he added. Also the vaccine has come via government-to-government channel, so it has been checked thoroughly and "there's nothing to be inconfident about it", as per Dr Shakya, who received his first dose of vaccine on January 27.

He didn't fear the vaccine, rather it brought him relief.

"COVID-19 had brought a series of obstacles in health professionals' lives. So, while getting the jab, I felt a sense of relief,"he said.

Like STIDH, Patan Hospital too is prepared to treat patients showing vaccine's side effects - "from normal allergies to cases of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)".

Patan Hospital is currently running 10 booths for immunisation and will be vaccinating around 10,000 people in a span of eight days. Around 40 members from the hospital are working in the immunisation drive at the hospital.

After getting vaccinated and working to ensure that all eligible individuals are able to get it, Dr Shakya and Pandey urged in unison, "There's nothing to worry about and backing out from getting vaccinated at this point in time is the wrong thing to do."

Revealing that frontline hospital workers are excited to get the shot, Dr Sunil Dhungel, Physician at Bhaktapur Hospital, Bhaktapur, said, "People doubt the efficacy of the vaccine.

However, none of the vaccines has 100 per cent efficacy.

The efficacy at 62-90 per cent (of Covishield) is good as it means the vaccine provides immunity up to 90 per cent to fight against the virus."

Bhaktapur Hospital is vaccinating the frontline workers of hospitals, healthcare centres and ward offices of Bhaktapur Municipality and Changu Narayan Municipality, while Nepal Korea Friendship Municipality Hospital is vaccinating the frontline workers of Suryabinayak Municipality and Madhyapur Thimi Municipality.

Counselling before the shot

Rajani Jareju was a bit apprehensive of those vaccinated showing side effects as she administered the Covishield vaccine to those at the Janaswasthya Sewa Kendra in Bhaktapur on January 28.

"It is not that we won't get infected anymore with COVID-19 after getting this vaccine. It just boosts our immunity to battle against COVID-19. We will be using hand sanitiser, gloves et cetera as earlier because it is said that the Covishield vaccination has efficacy of 62 to 90 per cent. We fear any adverse effect of the vaccine,"she said.

Despite the apprehensions, Jareju was fortunate to confirm that everything was fine with people who were made to rest at the observation space made to check and treat side effects of the vaccine.

Nonetheless, she has realised the need for a counselling session for the recipients of the vaccine before inoculating them. She pointed out, "Some healthcare professionals are aware about the vaccine after reading articles/ news related to the health sector. But there are other people in the healthcare sector like cleaners, volunteers et cetera who may not have full information about the vaccine and safety measures one needs to take after vaccination. So, there must be a counselling session for them before the vaccination."

Medical Director of Nepal Korea Friendship Municipality Hospital Dr Dipendra Kumar Raushan too stressed the need for a counselling session. "The vaccination process began so quickly that there was no time for counselling. This has led to a misconception among the public that the vaccination campaign has been launched free of charge here on a trial basis as Nepal is a poor country."

Therefore, the hospital has set up a counselling room. Those coming for vaccination must visit the room before getting the vaccine to clear their misconceptions, doubts, queries and give suggestions, according to Dr Raushan.