With the Government relaxing the gap in inoculation period between two doses of Covishield shot to 4-8 weeks from present 4-6 weeks, 50-year-old Sarita who has been taking care of her old ailing parents—her mother is suffering from breast cancer and father (82) from Parkinsons’ disease since last ten years-- now hopes of getting vaccinated at the earliest.
Presently, the Government does not officially recognize family caregivers in its vaccine allocation plan launched in January 16, this year. After inoculating healthcare workers and other frontline public employees, such as the security forces, jab is being offered to people above 60 years and those above 45 but suffering with specific co-morbidities. But not may are turning up, prompting the health experts to urge the government to ease the restrictions.
“I do not qualify for a vaccine as per the existing government criteria. I wish I could get a vaccination sooner, rather than later and get protected against the coronavirus since I am the one going out from home for livelihood and also taking care of my old parents at home. What will happen to them, if I contract Covid-19,” said worried Sarita, almost in tears as she echoed sentiments of many middle-aged sons and daughters caring for older relatives with serious ailments.
The government’s decision to increase the dose gap has instil hopes in them that the vaccination coverage will be widened to include them too, for they are the one who are at the closest and constant contact with their feeble bed-ridden relatives. This, particularly after Covid-19 pandemic which forced many of them to say goodbye to the nurse/caretakers they had hired to look after their sick patients.
“These family caregivers like Sarita provide medications, emotional and financial support among many other responsibilities of patients who are very sick, many of whom are completely reliant upon them. But while doctors and nurses are identified as frontline and healthcare workers, these category of people are invisible in the government scheme of things,” said Dr Rajendra Prasad, senior consultant, neuro and spine surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in the national capital.
He said that the Government should include caregivers of bed-ridden patients in the vaccination priority list, more so after the gap between two Covishield doses have been increased. To ensure transparency, the Government should allow doctors to certify family members from amongst their patients, who are caregivers and thereafter open registration for vaccination for this category at the earliest.
“There is an urgent need to vaccinate caregivers of patients who are bed-ridden due to disabilities. These patients cannot be vaccinated at home, for obvious reasons, however they are exposed to the Covid virus through their young caregivers, both professional and family members,” added Dr Daljit Singh, neurosurgeon (Head of Department of Neurosurgery) at GB Pant Hospital in Delhi.
“In addition, nursing agencies providing nursing assistants (untrained ayahs) should also be allowed to vaccinate their staff. With the next wave imminent, it is imperative that we include and vaccinate caregivers of the elderly, disabled and bed-ridden persons as early as possible.
“These may be professional or family members,” chipped in Dr Prasad who is also associated with Indian Head Injury Foundation engaged in rehabilitation of seriously disabled people in the country.
In fact, many countries like UK and Canada, who are administering the vaccine to their citizens, have expanded the inoculation gap to four months to cover maximum people.
Activists note that while a large number of patients are not turning up, those eager to get the shot are not eligible under the vaccine rollout programme. Against target, 30 crore people just 4.70 crore (4,50,65,998) vaccine doses have been administered through 7,33,597 sessions, as per the provisional report till Monday 7 am.
“At this pace, it will take years for the country to vaccinate the needy,” said advocate and health activist Dr Gaurav Kumar Bansal who has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court seeking inclusion of severe mental illness including those on the streets in the list of specific co-morbidities for Covid-19 vaccination.