Historic moment

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | SWATI SHARMA
Published Dec 19, 2020, 11:47 am IST
Updated Dec 19, 2020, 7:05 pm IST
Dr Nikhila Juvvadi who administered the first vaccine shot to a frontline worker in Chicago recently, speaks exclusively to Deccan Chronicle
Dr Nikhila Juvvadi
 Dr Nikhila Juvvadi
  • “If you’ve already had COVID-19, it’s still recommended you get the vaccine as it helps get your immunity to get stronger.”
  • “Vaccine requires a particular type of storage, at about –80 degree C, which means a lot of logistic preplanning”
  • “In India, there are the internationally developed Astrazenaca and those being developed in Hyderabad with Bharat Biotech, which will likely be available first”
  • “In the United States, the general public will get the vaccine by March, and I’m sure it’ll happen in India by summer too.”

Chicago-based Dr Nikhila Juvvadi was one of the American frontline workers ever since the pandemic hit the US early this year. An alumna of Nasr Public School and Bhaskar Medical College in Hyderabad, Dr Nikhila, stayed away from her family like most others in her field did too, attending to COVID-19 patients, providing them with the best possible medical help available in the given situation. Like many other colleagues, Dr Nikhila was also witness to the suffering and many deaths the killer virus was causing.

Yet, the frontline warrior couldn’t have been happier than when she administered the first vaccine shot to a frontline worker in Chicago recently. In fact, the US joined the UK in giving the first shots of Coronavirus vaccines in a mass vaccination campaign on Monday.

 

“It was a surreal and one of the most amazing experiences ever for me,” Dr Nikhila told Deccan Chronicle over the telephone. More frontline healthcare workers will receive the initial doses of the shot as hospitals devise rationing methods for limited supplies.

Reaffirming faith

As Internal Medicine Physician and Chief Clinical Officer/VP of operations at Loretto Hospital, Chicago, Dr Nikhila, who’s also the youngest Chief Clinical Officer in Chicago, has been leading the COVID task force in the hospital from the beginning of the crisis. “So also, it was an amazing moment when we gave the first COVID-19 vaccine in the city of Chicago. It was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel … in fact, it actually felt like being in the light,” says the doctor while speaking about the historical moment.

 

Dr Nikhila shares how the frontline workers are excited to be able to find protection from COVID-19. “They’ve been making so many sacrifices this entire year, including staying away from their families,” points out the doctor who believes those getting the vaccination would instil confidence in the public about the safety of the shots. “I think it’s important that people see others like them getting it and staying healthy.”

Shots of logistic nightmares

Excitements aside, the vaccine rollout involves a complex logistics. For instance, only five people in Chicago have yet got the vaccine because Pfizer’s shot comes as a five-per-vial. Moreover, the shot needs to be transported frozen and can be refrigerated for only up to five days, after which it must be administered within a few hours.

 

Pointing out the challenges in delivering the vaccine, Dr Nikhila adds, “One major challenge of the vaccine is that it requires a particular type of storage, at about –80 degree C, which means a lot of logistic preplanning. Pfizer and the Government have developed a good system to ensure everyone has the right amount of vaccine. The other challenge revolves around convincing people that it is safe to take it. Listening and answering questions helps.”

Timelines of Coronavirus vaccine distribution

In the United States, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been FDA-approved, with the vaccinations having started this week.

 

Dr Nikhila tells us that the next one to be likely FDA-approved will be Moderna, which will happen by this Friday. Stating that based on all the data in the public domain, she believes the vaccines will work, Dr Nikhila also informs us that the vaccines will be first given to hospital and nursing-home workers, especially to those above 65 years or those directly caring for COVID-19 patients. “In India, there are the internationally developed Astrazenaca and those being developed in Hyderabad with Bharat Biotech, which will likely be available first,” she adds.

 

Building herd immunity

Apparently, 80 per cent of people need to be vaccinated for society to achieve herd immunity. When we enquire with Dr Nikhila if this is true, she tells us, “We do not know exactly yet, but we estimate that might be the need. That’s why those who get the vaccine first must continue participating in all the social distancing measures.” The doctor then states that the currently developed vaccines require two doses each, about three to four weeks apart from one another.

But is it safe to get the COVID vaccine now when it has just come out, or should people wait until they’ve understood the vaccine’s long-term effects, we wonder. “It’s absolutely safe to get vaccinated when the vaccine first comes out as it’s been tested on a wide variety of people and not one of them has long-term effects,” says the doctor, adding, “We do know that COVID-19 itself has long-term effects so why take the risk of getting the virus?”

 

How the COVID-19 vaccines work

According to Dr Nikhila Juvvadi, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are different from any other vaccines ever developed in that this type of vaccine does not contain the part of the virus that causes the disease, as the flu vaccine does, for example.

“Moreover, they are mRNA vaccines. The term ‘mRNA’ stands for ‘messenger RNA’. A protein attached to the COVID-19 virus is delivered directly to the cell, which can be ‘read’, and causes the body to manufacture immune cells against this protein, warning the body to get its immune system to attack it the next time it sees the protein,” elaborates the doctor.

 

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