I’ve Got The Jab, Now Give Me The Vaccine Passport
A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, to a senior citizen at a hospital in New Delhi, India, on March 1, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

I’ve Got The Jab, Now Give Me The Vaccine Passport

BloombergQuintOpinion

I got the jab last week!

Wow, am I sounding like I’ve just won the Nobel Prize for entrepreneurship, even if one doesn’t exist? But hey, why not, because after one year of fearful incarceration, of eyeing every touch with suspicion, of getting frantic at every cough or sneeze, I’ve got those damn antibodies which could rid me and the world of this phobia soon.

Now, I insist that I tell you how I’ve moved from adult despair to childish hope.

I’ve Got The Jab, Now Give Me The Vaccine Passport

I had felt utterly helpless as the graph of Covid-19 infections and deaths climbed through 2020. I could do little except descend to my study in shorts and tees, spend the day staring at or hollering into a computer screen, wearily end around dusk, trudge up to the living quarters, settle for the daily constitutional of Netflix-and-a-few-drinks, begging for an elusive sleep to run over me.

Sixteenth Of January 2021!

But 16 days into the new year, lady luck swiveled. India began to vaccinate. Yet my thrill soon eviscerated. Our almighty state had monopolised the whole show. It decided where, who, when, and how each frontline worker would be inoculated. Bizarrely, it banned private health facilities from administering doses even to their own threatened workers, who had to tread to a state facility for the jab.

Healthcare workers wait ahead of their Covid-19 vaccination, at a hospital in New Delhi, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)
Healthcare workers wait ahead of their Covid-19 vaccination, at a hospital in New Delhi, on Jan. 16, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

As always, our insular state had vastly over-estimated its capacity. For 45 days, our vaccination programme crawled at a snail’s pace, averaging 3.5 lakh doses per day. At that rate, it would have taken five years to administer 60 crore shots to 30 crore vulnerable citizens. We might as well have been sitting ducks (bats?) for the rampaging virus. Worse, it was being speculated, without any strenuous denial, that lakhs of vials were going to expire at that glacial pace of vaccination. The situation was beyond tragic at a time the world was struggling with severe shortages.

India’s self-inflicted failure, the potential harbinger of a state-made Armageddon, was painful.

I was about to slide back into hopelessness … when suddenly, the state threw in the towel in a spectacular u-turn (surrender?). From a stern ‘’no, you can’t”, it opened the full stable and yard to private players within 48 hours! I kid you not. We went from a criminally prohibited regimen on Friday evening to open sesame on Monday, all through a tiny, breathless weekend.

Now anybody in the vulnerable cohort could get inoculated anywhere using any photo ID – no restrictions, no bureaucratic ifs and buts, and hmmms and hawws, just a compelling nudge to ‘go-go, get it’. The price was capped at an eyewatering Rs 250/dose, triggering tears of gratitude from beneficiaries and anger among producers (c’mon guys, lump it for the greater good of humankind).

Visitors arrive at a Covid-19 vaccination centre in New Delhi, on March 1, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)
Visitors arrive at a Covid-19 vaccination centre in New Delhi, on March 1, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Hello, Antibodies – You Good?

The frenetic about-turn left me a bit dazed. Should I first jump into the inoculating pan and think later, or wait and watch for a few days? I was still wrestling with this confusion when my daredevil sister posted an image on Facebook. She had casually sauntered into a BMC facility in Bandra and gotten the jab. Just like that. Walked in and gotten inoculated – no fuss, no paperwork, no backchannel sifarish (pulling strings), just “hello antibodies, you good?”.

My mind was made up. Since I am a tad technologically challenged, I had to lean on my wife’s magnificent skills. She expertly logged into www.cowin.gov.in. She typed in my cellphone number, and before I could say “Covid”, a one-time-password pinged on my device. I’ve never quite figured why we get so nervous about OTPs? They are valid for 10 minutes, but we fret, fidget and fumble as if they will disappear in 10 seconds.

Anyway, I blurted out the number within those artificial 10 seconds, which she again typed into the screen. Voila! The registration page opened up. Now she tagged the Aadhar IDs of her parents and myself – all three of us – on to my cellphone.

Within minutes, we had booked our ‘forenoon slots’ at a leading hospital in New Delhi.

We were supposed to get an SMS confirming our appointment, but we never did (that was the first glitch we had encountered up to that point). But the platform more than made up for this aberration by allowing us to download pdf sheets with all relevant appointment details.

Vaccination Day!

V-Day dawned crisp and fresh. I had had a jumpy night anticipating the vax. I needn’t have. Everything went off without a hitch (confession – like several privileged ‘south Delhi types’, we had sent an outrider to recce and smoothen it out for us). We collected our token numbers and were ushered into a waiting room where a dozen other applicants were seated. The nurse called us out one by one, checking our temperatures, oxygen levels, and blood pressures. Everything was in order. Next, we were called in to the ‘jab room’, where a cheerful lady asked for our Aadhar IDs (third such requisition that morning!), punched more stuff into her computer, and released us for the actual prick.

A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, to senior citizens at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, on March 1, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)
A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, to senior citizens at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, on March 1, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

“Take a deep breath, sir”, the administering nurse said, and charmingly plunged the needle into my left bicep. No, ma’am, I did not wince a bit.

From there we were taken to another desk, where the Aadhar was needed one more time. That nurse told us to take a 500-mg crocin tablet in case “you feel breathless, nauseas, feverish, or have loose motions. If you continue to feel bad, you need not come here, but go to any hospital near you and tell them about today’s inoculation. They will take care of the problem. Nothing to worry”.

Finally, we waited for half an hour in a tiny room along with other half-a-dozen patients. An SMS pinged, certifying one inoculation, but the other two never came (another glitch, but again, we eventually got the missing certificates from the hospital). After that, we were let go. Done. Inoculated.

Later that night, I had some fever and body-ache, but within 48 hours, I was as good as new.

Give Us Vaccine Passports – And Freedom!

Now, as I wait four weeks for my second jab, I am asking an existential question that 2.5 crore (and rapidly counting) Indians, and many more people across the globe will be echoing in a few days: “so now that we have got the antibodies, can we get back to normal, please? Else, what’s the point of it all? What a wasted opportunity if we don’t, right?”.

So, my dear Government of India (and of the U.S., UK, et al), please give a Vaccination Passport to all who’ve gotten their two jabs. Allow us to travel, mingle, play, gym, swim, get physio, whatever.

We don’t just want to be safe. We also want to feel normal, the way we were.
Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, on Dec. 6, 2020. (Photographer: Arco Dato/Bloomberg)
Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, on Dec. 6, 2020. (Photographer: Arco Dato/Bloomberg)

Yes, we promise to follow the safety protocol. But please set us free. For the sake of the global economy, and our well-being, do not fetter us with unreasonable bans and restrictions.

We’ve got the jab. Now give us our Vaccine Passports. Our freedom.

Raghav Bahl is Co-Founder – The Quint Group including BloombergQuint. He is the author of three books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’, and ‘Super Century: What India Must Do to Rise by 2050’.

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