‘I don’t even feel 1% safe’: Indian nurse from COVID vaccine

‘I don’t even feel 1% safe’: Indian nurse from COVID vaccine

Nina Sharma, 40, a nurse responsible for administering COVID vaccines at a government hospital in Nawanshahr, Punjab state, northern India, says she never feels safe at work, “Not even 1%”.
“I have to communicate with a lot of people. Doctors can keep a distance but there’s no way we [nurses] can, ”she said. The lack of social distancing and the inadequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) make it almost impossible to maintain them “safely”, she adds. “We are only given masks and disinfectant; I had to buy my own gloves.

Nina, who was trained to nurse out of necessity when her husband passed away 13 years ago and had to provide for her daughter, explains: “I never imagined it would be like this. Since COVID-19 arrived, life has been disrupted.

Responsible for administering vaccines at the hospital, Nina’s work shifts have been extended by several hours each day, without any additional pay. She works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The vaccination center is very busy,” she says. “I am responsible for delivering 100 to 150 vaccines per day, which I then have to register online. It’s a mentally stressful job, especially when you can’t tell who has COVID or not. “

A second wave of COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges health workers face as the country’s health system struggles to cope with record levels of daily cases and hospital admissions. Nina plays a central role in the fight against the crisis by administering vaccines. But reluctance to vaccinate and anti-mask attitudes – which are more prevalent in villages in the Punjab than in large cities in India – increase the risk for workers like Nina.

She describes how people get angry when told to wear a mask: “If you ask them to wear a mask, they will say ‘we have no corona’. Some people still think ‘if we get vaccinated we will die’ or ‘we will not be able to have children’, ”she says.

Nina tested positive for COVID-19 in February this year – 15 days after participating in a vaccine trial in which the government encouraged health workers to participate. She suffered from the typical symptoms of the coronavirus: “I was very ill for five days, I had a high- grade fever and cough; I had no taste or smell. My body became completely powerless from the fever, I couldn’t make myself food, ”says Nina.

As she lives alone – her only daughter now lives in Canada – she had to take care of herself. “If a person is alone, they start to think about a lot of things… I could have died without seeing my daughter,” she said.

While Nina’s parents also live in the Punjab, she has been isolated from them due to their health issues. “When you’re sick, you can normally invite someone over to take care of you or to keep you company, but you can’t due to the nature of this virus. This makes him very lonely.

Nina received a “Mission Fateh” kit from the hospital to help her recover. Mission Fateh was an initiative launched by the government of Punjab with the aim of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Kits include items such as an oximeter (a hand-held device that measures oxygen levels in the blood), a thermometer, multivitamins, masks, paracetamol, and a disinfectant. “It was a very good medicine and it helped me to recover. The kits last approximately 10 days. However, I don’t know if these services are still being provided as the cases increase, ”says Nina.

“One thing I will always remember about this pandemic is the way people help each other as much as they can,” says Nina Sharma [Photo courtesy of Nina Sharma]

Three months later, however, Nina experiences a long COVID – the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months after the initial illness. “Where I could walk 5 km a day before, I can barely walk two steps now. I am starting to feel short of breath and my legs are aching. She says other colleagues in her department who also caught coronavirus told her they were going through the same thing. They all believe they haven’t had enough rest or time to recover.

“I wanted more time after having COVID-19 because I felt so weak, but I didn’t get it. If I take unpaid leave, how will I manage my home? How am I going to eat? »Said Nina. “We have done so much work as front-line sampling and vaccination workers, we risk our lives every day. We have to raise our children – just pay ourselves fairly.

Nina went on strike last month alongside other Punjab health workers over pay and lack of leave for those who catch COVID. While some states like Haryana have doubled the wages of frontline workers since the start of the pandemic, no additional leave or pay increases have been granted in Punjab.

While states like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have reported severe bed and oxygen shortages, Nina says the situation is not as bad in her hospital. But she believes it won’t be long before they face a similar crisis.

The government of Punjab reported that there was not enough oxygen or vaccines to meet the state’s demand. It is currently administering nearly 25% fewer vaccine doses compared to last month. Punjab had planned to start immunizing everyone over the age of 18, but the state has not received the promised number of doses, leading to many criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic.

“When the government let us down, the community came together,” says Nina. “One thing I will always remember about this pandemic is how people help each other as much as they can. When the cases first reached Punjab, the gurdwaras were very good and brought food to hospitals for the patients. They did a lot of seva [an act of selfless service practised in the Sikh community]. But what can they do? It is not sustainable to rely on gurdwaras for help. “

Confused messages were cited as one of the main factors leading to the upsurge in cases during this second wave of COVID-19 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged the public to wear face masks while addressing large gatherings of people unmasked during his election campaigns.

Nina remains clear in her message to people: “Each person should think carefully and wear a mask and wash their hands if asked to do so. It could mean that you will save your family. ”


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