“Initially I thought COVID-19 would not hit India for which I was thankful. I thought we would be safe. However, a month after Mumbai witnessed its first COVID-19 cases in March 2020, we all realised it was time to take guard for a long fight against this virus,” said Rucha Salgaonkar, Matron and the first vaccinator at BYL Nair hospital, in an interview to the Free Press Journal.
Salgaonkar said she is happy for all the support she has received from her family when the virus was at its peak and when she had to spend hours as a COVID-19 warrior in the wards. With Mumbai achieving the target of vaccinating the entire city with the first dose, the warrior shares the experiences and difficulties she faced while handling the COVID-19 vaccination drive since it started on January 16 this year.
What thoughts came to your mind when the pandemic started in Mumbai?
In December 2019, when there was an outbreak in China and then it spread to other regions, I thought India was safe and it would not hit us so badly. India was fortunate that it got time to get prepared to handle and fight against COVID-19. We got time to mentally prepare ourselves to handle the pandemic and to get the logistics in place.
Any special encounters while administering vaccines or treating COVID-19 patients? What is the reason you felt they were special?
It took time for the citizens to realise the severity of the situation. The patients and their relatives were not prepared to handle it. Initially, there were panic situations among relatives and they needed counselling. But as we passed the first and second waves, it became easy for me to counsel relatives and make them aware of coronavirus. During the vaccination drive, I had to counsel beneficiaries about the vaccine as people had many myths about it. It was important to make them understand that it was okay to feel weakness for a day or two. The planning and management were effective and we have not faced any problem to date.
Did your family members stop you from working in COVID-19 hospital?
My family always thought I was doing a noble job. They were supportive and encouraged me to carry on with the work.
Did any of your family contract the infection? How did you handle that situation?
No one from my family contracted coronavirus as we all were following COVID-19 protocols properly.
With Nair Hospital being the first civic hospital to operate as a vaccination centre, what challenges did you have to face as the drive began?
One of the first challenges faced by Nair Hospital was in creating space for the vaccination centre. So a corner of the hostel for nurses was changed into a vaccination centre. Later, two classrooms were changed into the injection area and observation area. We also made a mobile wash area near the vaccination centre. Drinking water facility, entry, and exit for the people were planned so that there would be no crowding and chaos.
How did you manage the chaos at the centre when there was a vaccine shortage?
Mid-May onwards, there was a shortage of vaccines as both beneficiaries for the first dose and the second dose started to come to the centre. Only a limited number of people were given tokens so if there is a shortage then others don’t have to wait for long or they can go to other centres.
How did you handle the CoWin portal in the early days of its inception? Where were you trained before the vaccination drive?
The data operators were there for the CoWin portal. The lines for data entry were monitored by the hospital security; doctors were also present near the desks and entry points to address the queries by the beneficiaries. The nursing staff was trained by the Preventive and Social Medicine (PSM) department.
Mumbai has now become the first metro city to have administered the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 100 per cent of its eligible population. How does it feel?
We feel very proud of it, as we are contributing to society. We want to ensure there is no one left in Mumbai who is without the protection of vaccines.
There is still considerable vaccine hesitancy, so how do you convince those sceptics?
All vaccines have their side effects but it doesn’t mean it is not effective and not all vaccines give 100 per cent protection. So we need to be mentally prepared, which can only be done by counselling and awareness.
What has been your overall experience in handling the drive and COVID-19 patients?
The patients were isolated from their homes and loved ones so we tried to give them homely care and make them understand that they were in safe hands.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)