Prominent pulmonologist Naveed Nazir’s tweet about the possibility of a second Covid wave has only shifted focus on Kashmir’s vaccination drive still grappling with misinformation and speculations.
Inside his crowded clinic at Sanat Nagar junction in Srinagar, a doctor stands isolated. Attending patients behind a transparent glass wall and addressing them through a mike, he keeps track of the changing pulse of the pandemic.
The Sunday rush is overwhelming, so are texts and calls on Dr. Naveed Nazir’s cellphone for a desperate appointment.
Covid, it seems, has only built the cult.
And it’s because of this cult status that Kashmir takes this chest specialist very seriously today.
“Beware and cautious …” Dr. Naveed tweeted on February 18, 2021. “Indications of second wave beginning to come.. Maharashtra/Kerala starting to heat up again … TAKE VACCINE whosoever get an opportunity and TAKE PRECAUTIONS.”
In Kashmir’s ‘frizzled out’ fight against Covid-19, chest specialist Naveed Nazir is a star-studded frontline warrior. In the initial days of the pandemic, the doctor held the fort of Chest Disease Hospital where the virus overnight made loved ones untouchables and disposables.
Despite the hospital management drawing bad press for “mishandling” a Tangmarg man’s case initially, followed by some shocking scenes, the pulmonologist led from the front. In his resolve to tackle the unseen enemy, Naveed ended up in self-isolation.
Due to his swaying stature, his tweet made much noise with netizens cautioning that SOPs should be followed and the advice should be heeded to.
But before the pulmonologist would send out the warning signals, coming events had started casting their shadow in the valley.
As some developed countries re-imposed Covid curbs, the newly elected mayor of Srinagar made masks mandatory in public and ordered action against the violators.
“But just like Junaid Mattoo’s politics,” says Saleem Khan, a Srinagar-based commentator, “his mask campaign only got unmasked in a matter of days itself.”
In between the floundering protocol in a thawed viral season, the campuses were thrown open and the life in the run-up to the upcoming spring seemed promising, until the doctor’s tweet served a stark warning.
But more than fear and fright, the tweet put Kashmir’s Covid combat in focus.
It was ten months after World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic that India granted emergency use to two COVID vaccines — Covishield (developed by the Pune based Serum institute) and Covaxin (developed by the pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech).
After New Delhi started the world’s biggest Covid-19 vaccination program and shipped the “antidote” to the snowbound valley, it found its primary takers in docs and cops. Volunteerism was aimed to ward off the paranoia associated with the prick campaign.
But the fears only escalated after Pfizer Covid dose—the only approved vaccine by the WHO—took 23 lives in Norway.
“There’s not much need for these Indian vaccines which have not passed all the scientific trials,” says Basharat Wani, a biochemistry scholar.
“Covaxin, for example, is still in the phase 3 human trials and a full dataset on efficacy has not been released, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”
Clearly, the jab amid the pandemic did not bring any excitement in the valley.
“I haven’t taken any vaccine shot yet,” says Tufail Kenu, a medic from Anantnag. “I will only take it after seeing how it goes with my co-workers.”
However, in a bid to curb fake news and rumours, the authorities in the erstwhile state have ordered action against the disinformation peddlers. Plus, as a counter move, awareness measures are being taken through social, print, and electronic media.
The authorities also directed the concerned officials to release video messages to debunk the myths about the vaccine.
As one of the faces of this campaign, Dr Bilquees Shah, nodal officer of Srinagar’s JLNM Hospital, said that her hospital staff got vaccine shots without developing any dangerous symptoms.
“Since the vaccines are safe and immunogenic, the rumours are not good for the fight against this disease,” one of the health officials said. “The hesitation among the public will be addressed through awareness and information.”
One of the doctors who volunteered for the Covid jab told Mountain Ink, “There’re fears, but then, the vaccine is the only way to develop resistance against the deadly infection.”
Amid the public concerns, the Serum Institute came out with the fact-sheet, saying recipients should provide the medical history to the healthcare provider before getting vaccine shots.
“Those who are allergic to any ingredient of this vaccine or had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of this vaccine should not get the covidshield vaccine,” it said.
“It is your choice to receive or not the covidshield vaccine.”
Back at Sanat Nagar, Dr. Naveed continues to stay isolated while attending to the frail footfall.
The time ahead, he forecasts, might once again test Kashmir’s resilience.
As of now, the medic suggests, rumours can wait, but not the vaccine — “which is the only way to end the pandemic”.
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Adil Amin Akhoon is the Managing Editor at The Mountain Ink.