India has been on a vaccination drive to tackle the rampant Coronavirus for several weeks now. In terms of numbers achieved of those who have got the first jab, never mind the second, we still seem to have barely scratched the surface. The more our healthcare workers keep injecting from the two brands of vaccine available in our country, the more there are people who are yet to be vaccinated. We are still eons away from achieving anywhere close to herd immunity levels of vaccinations administered. To be fair, this is not for want of trying. It is just the humongous magnitude of the task and millions in our country are still overcome by the Hamletian dilemma, ‘To do or not to do,’ if you’ll pardon me paraphrasing the Bard. I guess this is only to be expected in a densely populous country ‘boasting’ a head count of around 1.4 billion. And counting.
That’s the grim news. The grimmer news is that most of our people don’t seem to be taking a blind bit of notice towards ensuring adequate precautions, despite constant reminders over all our media channels by the medical fraternity to observe the three cardinal rules, which at the moment is being observed more in the breach.
Wear a mask. Of course, I wear a mask, but I refuse to cover my nose. I have to breathe, dammit!
Maintain social distancing. What does that mean, exactly? How many feet away from the nearest person are you talking about? What about all these crowds at election rallies, weddings, rave parties and religious festivals? And that includes all our preachy politicians. Flying kisses are back in vogue amongst the hoity-toity, and that is not entirely a bad thing.
Hand hygiene. Look, I wash my hands when I get back home, but oftentimes, I am gadding about on some work or the other, and soap, water or liquid sanitizers are not always ready to hand, in a manner of speaking. So, I have to take my chances. I’ll try not to rub my eyes or pick my nose, but I make no promises.
That’s the common man spelling out his not very uncommon position on what he thinks about health and social observances during the medical crisis that has engulfed the world and is paying a stirring second visit to India. One year has now passed and the average Joe on the street appears to have ‘had it up to here’ with all the enforced discipline. He, and quite often she as well, seems to be saying that I will go out there and have myself a ball, and the devil take the hindmost. It’s a sticky situation for the Central and State Governments to tackle, and though they are making a decent fist of it to fight the virus, the virus invariably seems to have something up its sleeve. The word mutation springs to the lips. Lockdowns are no longer an option, what with the economy showing stuttering signs of recovery. Government agencies are also in a quandary when they find their own ministerial masters jousting at the hustings during the ongoing state elections, with nary a care about crowd control or distancing of any kind. It’s a nightmare. A young, incensed doctor in Tamil Nadu took to social media and asked the public if they had clay in place of brains. The question may have been rhetorical but I think it applies literally, as well.
At this point I felt it would be a good idea to buttonhole one of my friends from the medical fraternity and get his views on how we are going to come out of this hole. I know we are witness every evening to Dr. Guleria, Dr. Devi Shetty and others of their ilk giving us the benefit of their views on television, but I felt I might get a scoop or two by discussing this with my doctor friend. At his express request, I am not revealing his name.
‘Good morning, Doc.’ I always called him Doc despite his being a close buddy. It was a bit of a tease but also displayed a modicum of grudging respect. ‘I spoke to you nearly a year ago, and in between as well, when the pandemic had all of us in a right, royal spin. During this period, we in India have released two vaccines in the market, one more visible than the other and we seem to know a lot more about our friend Covid19. That said, we now find ourselves in the same, if not worse, position than we were a year ago. Pretty funny, don’t you think?’
Doc narrowed his eyes and said, ‘You might think it funny, but I am not laughing.’ Doc was a bit literal-minded but I let it pass. He continued. ‘Yes, I agree the vaccinations have filled a lot of people with hope, but it is not a cure-all panacea. If our youngsters insist on attending all-night parties, dancing cheek-to-cheek, boozing the night away and God knows what else, a hundred jabs on both arms won’t help. As it is these kids are jabbing all kinds of other substances into their arms and veins, and the vaccination drive in some parts of our population is, unsurprisingly, going in vain. If you’ll excuse the pun.’
‘Good to see you haven’t lost your sardonic wit, Doc. I agree, it’s all very frustrating, but surely, we are getting there. I understand India is now the second largest vaccinator in the world after Uncle Sam. That should be enough to encourage people like you.’
‘Look my friend. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will tell you that the only way to beat this virus, or at least to keep it at arm’s length, is to observe the basic, simple rules. Wear a mask, keep a distance from other people and wash your hands regularly. Surely, any village idiot can follow these instructions. Even the Prime Minister repeats these rules ad nauseum whenever he is not giving Didi the third degree.’
‘True, true but the Prime Minister is speaking from the ramparts of Nandigram or Cooch Behar to thousands and thousands of people. He wishes to spread the good word, but the huge crowds are becoming superspreaders. Is that safe, Doc?’
‘It’s certainly not safe for the thousands and thousands of people who have come to listen to their leader. As for the PM himself, he seems to have been born with a built-in immunity against any virus that dares to go against him.’
‘Does that include Mamata Banerjee, Doc? Ha, ha. Speaking of Didi, what’s the official word on her leg injury? Was it a fracture? She is certainly getting full value out of her wheelchair.’
‘Now, now, don’t be naughty. Look, the Calcutta doctors said it was a “bone injury.” Make of that what you will. A strange and unique diagnosis. There was also some talk of abrasions, but the F word was never used.’
‘F word?’, queried I, perplexed in the extreme.
‘Fracture, you dolt. What did you think I meant? Except that no one admitted to a fracture, but the doughty CM is wheelchaired through the heartlands and hot lands of Bengal during this unforgiving summer. I am also given to believe that she has given strict instructions that her leg plaster should not be removed till the elections are over. I understand the high and mighty in the land, or at least in her own party, are autographing that leg plaster, which the good lady wears like a badge of honour. Might fetch a fortune one day at some auction house.’
‘That’s all very well Doc, but haven’t we digressed from the main topic, namely, vaccinations and the virus’ progression? A quick question before we wind up. Can you throw some light on this gapping confusion? Should it be 4 weeks gap between the two jabs or 12 weeks? Many knowledgeable folks, including Adar Poonawalla of the Serum Institute are in favour of 12 weeks. What say you, Doc?’
‘Well, the Prime Minister has split the difference and taken his second dose after 6 weeks. My advice is, after 4 weeks, go by what your instinct tells you,’ he concluded, rather dubiously.
‘Sorry Doc, we digressed from our original digression of politics and the elections. Let us now re-digress.’
‘I am glad we did. Digress, I mean. Re-digress, if you must. Frankly, I am fed to the back teeth talking about the virus and the vaccinations. Much more interesting to talk about politics, elections and leg fractures, or rather, bone injuries. If you are up to it, I am game to talk about the upcoming IPL. Do you think Dhoni still has it in him to provide one last hurrah for the men in yellow?’
‘Doc, I’d love to sit with you and discuss the IPL but I have better things to do. Thanks for all your valuable inputs. Next time I want to talk about Covid, its treatment in sickness and in health, I’ll contact Dr. Guleria.’
‘Or Dr. Devi Shetty. You do that my friend. Only, you’ll have to get in line behind some 50 television channels waiting to interview them. I fear for their health. Now you can vamoose. I have 100 people sitting outside waiting to be jabbed. And I am running out of vaccines. Bye.’