All I Want for New Year is... The Covid-19 Vaccine

I guess I speak for everyone when I say, “I’ve just about had enough of the coronavirus!” An entire year has gone down the drain, with very little to show in terms of growth or gain. To add salt to our wounds, 2020 is ending on a note none of us would have imagined - the vaccine is out there... and still so far away! With the New year around, there’s still the dreaded Covid-19 that’s around to rain on our parades.

This fact became abundantly clear to me when I recently went to a party where many of the guests had already taken the vaccine. Where did they get it from? Who does one have to know to get their hands on the damn thing? How can I get my jab asap? These were the questions flying around on everyone’s minds. In Hyderabad, the situation has improved drastically over the last few months, but Coronavirus hasn’t completely disappeared. People we know are still getting it; they’re recovering, but then there’s the pressure of spreading it to those near you who could be susceptible to it. The elderly, the one’s in our family who have health issues... no one wants to be in that position. 

This has caused many of us to take extra precautions. The masks are still de rigueur, the sanitizer is always at hand. These things have just become a part of our lives. So it was with this newfound etiquette that we began partying last weekend, trying our best to stay safe, while still having some semblance of fun from the good old days, when all you could catch from a soirée was a severe case of a hangover the next day. As with most booze-filled extravaganzas, etiquette and politesse usually only lasts till the hooch starts to take effect. After that its pretty much the Wild Wild West. Masks go haywire, the smokers congregate in groups and on the dance floor one can hardly remember if a bat somewhere in China was responsible for decimating an entire year in our human lives. 

A friend of mine who had recently had a baby in his home was kind enough to invite me to his place for a few rounds of drinks. Since I’ve been the village idiot who’s been going from pillar to post, socializing till my legs fall off, it was only appropriate that I get a test before heading to his pad. I did exactly that, the testing-fellow came to my office, wore his PPE kit, with face shield and all, then shoved that dreaded swab down my throat and inside my nose in a manner that would surely elicit a far more severe response from someone of a weaker constitution. For me, this was my sixth PCR test this year... not counting the rapid tests I’ve done, which I’ve now lost count of. No matter how many times you do it though, it still feels as invasive and uncomfortable as the first time. 

Speaking to people from the pharma industry in the city, it’s easy to conclude that Hyderabad is at the spearhead of vaccine development in the country. Bharat Biotech, BiologicalE and Dr Reddy’s Labs are all working on some form or the other of the much-awaited cure to our woes. Then there’s Serum Institutes AstraZeneca vaccine made in collaboration with The University of Oxford, that’s already applied for emergency approval with the Indian Government. In all likelihood, if a vaccine is to be rolled out anytime soon in the country on a mass scale, it will be the Serum Institute’s, which has the bandwidth and capability of producing the numbers required to inoculate a nation of 1.3 billion. 

For those of us wanting to get the vaccine abroad, there are more options. Pfizer and Moderna both of have vaccines that are being released in the US and parts of Europe, which show a 94-95% efficacy rate. Both vaccines require two separate doses to be administered, 28 days apart... but what makes them different is the condition that they have to be stored in. Pfizer’s vaccine comes with a caveat - it has to be stored in temperatures below -94F, which makes it almost impossible to transport on a large scale, requiring a cold chain system that cannot always make it viable when reaching smaller towns or villages. Moderna’s on the other hand, is more stable, needing to be kept in refrigerated temperature, something that makes it far more nubile and easy to move. 

Those of you lucky enough to have a residency in Dubai can get vaccinated already, just a quick three-hour flight away if so be your inclination and urgency for the cure. The UAE Government has already announced that it will be offering vaccination to citizens and residents of the country on a priority basis. Then there’s the andar ka jhol, knowing the right people in the right places who can perhaps fast track or give access to a vaccine that is safe and sound. For many, it’s a race to get this coveted passport to freedom. A chance to get rid of the shackles of Covid that have kept us homebound for the better part of the year! 

Then, of course, there are those who fit into the anti-vaxxer bracket - men and women who say its best to wait and watch. The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has in all his astuteness and diplomatic ability proclaimed that the Covid vaccines would make “women grow beards and turn people into crocodiles”. His candour isn’t shared by more logically thinking world leaders, but then rumours do have their own way of creating panic and unrest. The video of a nurse in the US fainting moments after she had been administered a dose of the vaccine didn’t help matters in its favour either. Memes have popped up all over Instagram, some claiming that the vaccine has an inbuilt microchip that will make us emit our very own WiFi signals. Proving that even in times of such dire circumstances, there is no dearth of buffoons on this planet to provide us with entertainment and side-line commentary to lighten the mood. 

Until then, I wait with bated breath and hope, almost praying that I’ve been on the Good Boy list this year (having missed out on that distinction for several decades now) and wish that for New Year, or even a few days before or after, I get that much-coveted dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.          --- Vishwaveer