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On being vaccinated against COVID-19

I never thought I would need the jab of a vaccine to activate my patriotism.

Since news of the availability of anti-Covid-19 vaccines has been regurgitated by the press, I have suffered anxiety about whether or not I should allow myself to be vaccinated. Which one, though?   AstraZeneca? The Pfizer-BioNTech? Moderna? Or the single dose Johnson & Johnson? Why not the Russian Sputnik V, even though it might be a cousin to the secret weapon developed by Putin to disable defectors?

What pushed me over the edge was not my vulnerability. Everyone in contact with Pakistan accepts that while life is in the hands of God, death can come from the unwashed infected hands of fellow Man. What precipitated me into action was the advice by a young Brit-Pak doctor who has spent the last year treating Covd-19 patients at a London hospital, where incidentally Boris Johnson was also a patient. According to that medic: ‘The vaccine will not prevent you from catching the virus; it will however reduce the chances of it degenerating into something lethal.’

Government announcements have urged elderly Pakistanis over the age of 65 to register on an official number 1166. I did, and then waited for the call. It took some weeks and an unsubtle prompt for 1166 to respond. It informed me that I should present myself with my NIC card at the Expo Centre in Lahore’s Johar town. I did, last Sunday. It is the same cavernous complex that has been the venue for commercial exhibitions, annual book fairs, and most recently (after an almost overnight conversion) into an emergency hospital for Covid-19 patients.

Those in my family over the age of 65 accompanied me on the off-chance that, even though none of us had an appointment, we might secure a jab. I steeled myself for the institutionalised inhospitality one endures at government managed dis-organisations. That sunny Spring afternoon was different.

Lahore’s geriatric and ageing residents debouched onto the tarmac of the Expo’s parking lot. An ants-line of wheelchairs ferried the incapacitated to the receiving area. The crowd massed there defied every injunction about safe social-distancing. But then, the promised protection lay on the other side of the massive steel doors. We filled out a form each, and were ushered into an inner waiting area. There, after no more than three minutes on chairs spaced for safety, we were invited row by row into the vaccination hall.

The remnants of its previous modification as a Covid-19 emergency centre were still visible - rows of hospital beds, two per cubicle, each fitted with electrical outlets for equipment. A relay of nurses examined patients, noting their temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.

At the next station, a few yards away, doctors sat, each dipping into a cooler containing cartons of the dose. A lady doctor gave me a jab, noted the time ‘2:57’ and passed me to an orderly who invited me to spend the next fifteen minutes on a chair or bed (my choice) just in case I might suffer an allergic reaction. After the observation time was over, a doctor obligingly initialed my form and I was ushered out, with a reminder that I should have my next vaccination after 21 days.

It had taken all of thirty painless minutes, including the post-jab wait. No industrial assembly line could have operated with smoother efficiency. I felt the dead virus vaccine and an invigorated patriotism course through my being.

To whom should one give credit for this conveyor belt of social thoughtfulness?  The Federal government, the Punjab government, the nurses, the doctors, the welcoming staff, the attentive orderlies, the police who shepherded the aged with soft-pawed courtesy? My compliments to all of them and to everyone else responsible for this seamless exercise. Such humanity does not need a political mannequin upon which to hang a medal.

Expo Centre may not be a place of worship, but emerging from it - punctured but otherwise unscathed - verses from the Holy Bible came to my mind. In the Book of Isaiah, Hezekiah pleads: ‘My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. / I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!’ God hears Hezekiah and grants him an extension of life - fifteen more years. In gratitude, Hezekiah vows: ‘I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.’

A momentous occasion deserves a memento. I took away a small empty carton of the vaccine. It was the SARs-Cv2 (Inactivated), manufactured on 29 Dec. 2020 and distributed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co. Ltd. All the other information about the vaccine was in Chinese.

Could someone translate it for me - preferably someone not from Wuhan? 



[DAWN, 18 MARCH 2021] 

18 March 2021
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