india vaccine covishield
A lady receives an AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination campaign, at a medical centre in Mumbai, India Image Credit: Reuters

In India, Covid vaccinations were made available from March 1 for those in the older and more vulnerable age group. The wait was finally over or so I thought.

But registering on the app was another hurdle. Of course there were glitches on day one as the system was overloaded with hundreds of thousands of applicants trying their luck at the same time. What was even more aggravating was the fact that my sibling got through easily and was soon off to a private hospital to get the jab. Disheartened, I gave up after a few tries.

However, a nephew came to my rescue the next day and got me an appointment on day two. Somehow I wasn’t worried about overcrowding at the hospital and, when I reached the facility, I was impressed at the streamlined process. My friends and I received our token numbers which were in the 100s.

Seeing the expression on our faces, the token dispenser told us that 60 people had already gone through. We decided to snatch a quick bite at the canteen. My gregarious friend had made friends with the token man and he said he would call us if our turn came while we were away. Fortunately, by the time we returned, it was time to go in.

What struck me was the helpfulness of the hospital staff and the clear instructions. The injection was administered skilfully and painlessly and then we had to sit for half an hour before leaving. While we were sitting, our oxygen levels were taken and then a lady approached us with a huge picture frame and asked if we wanted to take a photo of ourselves. The photo frame had the words “I took my Covid-19 vaccine. Did you?”

These pictures of smug faces have been circulated widely on WhatsApp to friends across the globe followed by a flurry of questions on whether there were any side effects and if so what were they. A friend in the UK seemed to have had the most severe reaction with complaints of dizziness and upset stomach and general weakness.

All I suffered was soreness at the injection site although my macho brother claimed he didn’t have any side effects. Of course I didn’t believe him based on our long history of one-upmanship!

I received a phone call from an alumni of the school where I taught decades ago to inform me that they were arranging for vaccinations of their teachers at a private hospital. I was deeply touched by this caring gesture.

The booster dose which was due 28 days after the first this symptom has now been moved to a later date to allow for more efficient development of antibodies.

I do feel relieved that I have had the first jab and all we can do is hope that this pandemic can be defeated in due course of time.

Many of my friends living abroad have asked me (almost indignantly) if I can explain how the number of fatalities and cases in India is lower than that of other nations despite our huge population. My theory is that Indians here have a stronger immune system as we are exposed to so much pollution and dirt! If you are used to living in a more sterile environment, the moment you step outside this comfort zone, you are in danger of falling prey to illness or disease.

I know that many Indians who come home on holiday from cleaner cities have experienced their children falling sick here despite being careful about the water they drink or the food they eat. So, some of them cut down on their trips home, believing that they are safer in their new homes and there is no need to expose their vulnerable kids to health risks here.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India