Interview | “No dubiousness on COVID-19 vaccine”: Qazi Haroon, State Immunization Officer

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Jammu and Kashmir received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine Covishield last week, which has been manufactured in Serum Institute, Pune. The doctors in Kashmir advise people to take vaccination without any doubts, but not to forget to be precautious and follow the Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs). The Kashmir Walla spoke with Dr. Qazi Haroon, State Immunization Officer, to know about the process of COVID-19 vaccination and the safety measures being taken by the authorities.

What do you have to say about this vaccine? Is it safe to get vaccinated?

It is better to get vaccinated rather than not doing it. If you know the history of the vaccination, a lot of vaccine preventable diseases have been eradicated completely only because of the vaccine. So, it’s better to get vaccinated. 

When the pandemic started in February, it created havoc, chaos and confusion. A lot of deaths happened, a lot of people became Covid positive. People had to be kept in isolation. Everybody was waiting for the vaccine as it had no cure earlier. So the only option for the entire world was a vaccine. The good thing was, the work on the vaccination drive was started without any delay. The vaccine passed the quality check. Two vaccines have been approved. The vaccine which came to us is Covishield and the other one which got approval is Covax. The vaccine Covishield has been manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Maximum vaccines are made/manufactured by Serum Institute. So, this is the time tested institute. This is our own institute. There’s no dubiousness on the vaccine.

What are the pros and cons of the vaccine? 

Two years ago, we started a huge campaign on measles rubella. In that campaign, we vaccinated people from the age of nine months to sixteen years and there were thirty-eight lac children in Jammu and Kashmir. At that time, we went to schools since the matter of children was sensitive. It’s a very sensitive issue. There was a lot of apprehension at that time just like today in our few healthcare workers about whether the vaccine is safe or not or if we should get vaccinated or not. The doubts were there at that time as well. The process of vaccination started slowly at that time just like today. So, we know the pattern. 

We have worked before as well. The process of vaccination starts slowly until or unless people start trusting, people see if some adverse event happens to someone or someone gets ill. Everyone wants to get vaccinated. At that time, we initially vaccinated ten thousand people, then fifty thousand, one lac, five lacs and so on. So, people got satisfied. The same pattern will be followed here also. 

How is the process of vaccination going on? Who will get vaccinated first?

This process will go on slowly. Firstly, we will vaccinate the healthcare workers which are 109000 but that doesn’t mean they will then go out without masks and will not follow Standard Operating Protocols. When they will get vaccinated, even they too have to follow the norms of Covid (precautions). Secondly, we will vaccinate frontline workers, army-men, policemen, municipality workers. The third phase is our population and in population, we will vaccinate people who are in their fifties or above. These are the people who were prone during the pandemic and then we will vaccinate people who are in their fifties and below, the people who are sick because of some disease or illness, people who have no good immune system, who have some kind of disease like diabetes, chest disease or any kind of chronic diseases after that when this all will end, we will vaccinate the general population. The people who get vaccinated must follow SOPs.

How important is awareness through media?

We can’t do anything alone as a health department. Our media should support us. The information can go to the masses through the media. Media has to play an important role, all the media fraternity. All of us are answerable for ourselves and our society. We have to educate people. We have to make people understand the importance of social distancing norms.

How effective is the vaccine? 

We will be able to answer that question in the next two months. 

Is there any side effect of this vaccine?

The vaccine is a part of the virus. Mild symptoms can happen to people like fever or muscles ache. These can be normal things that can subside within two hours. But we don’t have to worry about it. People who get vaccinated are made to sit in an observation room so that we can see if something happens or someone needs healthcare. We don’t send them back home but attend to them immediately. People should not worry. This is a very normal thing after vaccination. It happens rarely.

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