Indian-American health care workers have been in the forefront of delivering care to COVID-19 patients in this country, endangering their own lives and taking the utmost care not to bring the disease to friends and family. Several have died in the course of the last nine months, as victims of this deadly virus.
As the Pfizer vaccine began rolling out around the country, News India Times interviewed several Indian-American physicians ranging from those involved in the trials to those who have already received it since vaccinations began to be administered December 14, as well as those awaiting them in the near future.
Expressing immense emotional relief and voicing effusive praise and wonder for the process and speed with which the vaccines were developed and now being made available, suffuses their responses during the interviews.
It’s been more than 24 hours since Dr. Rajiv Pandit, a Head and Neck surgeon at Methodist Dallas Medical Center received his Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
“I feel great! Even my patients are so happy for me. It was a very emotional moment – it represents something like the Moon Landing – getting a vaccine so quickly,” Dr. Pandit told News India Times.
As an ENT specialist, he has been in close proximity to respiratory systems of patients with head and neck problems. His hospital received 6,000 vaccines in the first tranche, which means 3,000 health care workers and support staff are getting the vaccines first. And because MDMC is the magnet hospital for the vaccine, other hospitals are sending their staff to be vaccinated here as well.
“This is going to change my life, and the stress levels of my patients,” Dr. Pandit told News India Times, not to mention his wife’s fear and concern. Every hour he gets phone calls and texts from family members and acquaintances – “How are you feeling now … and now,” Dr. Pandit says. Other than mild soreness on the arm, he has no other symptoms. Three weeks from Dec. 15, he will get the second shot, and then a couple week’s wait before a blood test will assess his immunity. But relief is already flooding those he cares for and who care for him.
Dr. Purvi Parikh of the NYU Langone Health system, a specialist on infectious disease allergy and immunology, has been involved with the Pfizer vaccine trials starting in May 2020, as a co-investigator. That was when nobody knew what could be the result. So, it is especially meaningful for her and very rewarding to see health care workers getting the vaccine and crying with gratitude, she said.
“I didn’t think I would feel so emotional, but all of a sudden it hit me when I saw people getting vaccinated, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a moment in history.’ And then getting an email from Pfizer thanking us and saying that because of our participation, science will win, was so gratifying.”
Since May, Dr. Purvi Parikh has been involved in doing the tasks necessary for the trials, from seeing each individual volunteer for the vaccine, monitoring them, fielding their calls 24/7, reporting the observations to federal agencies recording the day-to-day developments. Pfizer conducted the trials in 152 sites across six countries.
“Just from a scientific perspective, it is an amazing feat that so many people could come together and develop an effective vaccine,” she said, adding that it was extremely important for Indian-American and other South Asians to get these vaccines because of the higher rate of co-morbidities like heart disease and diabetes.
Dr. Purvi Parikh’s father, Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, has been part of the Moderna vaccine clinical trials since June when the 3rd phase started. The Moderna vaccine was scheduled for approval by the Food and Drug Administration Dec. 17. But he of course, has already received the two doses of either the real thing or the placebo. “I have no idea which one, but by Monday (Dec. 21, 2020), I should know. And those who got the placebo will then be sent the real vaccine,” he noted, adding that this vaccine would reduce the intensity of the illness if anyone contracts Covid-19, thus preventing any serious consequences.
“As a doctor, I strongly suggest everyone get the vaccines when available,” Dr. Sudhir Parikh advised.
Dr. Mihir Meghani was to receive his vaccine Dec. 17, which happens to be his wedding anniversary, which is why he postponed it to Dec. 19. He is an Emergency Room physician, in Fremont, California.
“I wasn’t worried about the vaccine, since all of this started a year ago and we’ve been living with the idea of protecting ourselves, our families and our patients,” he told News India Times.
The vaccine was especially reassuring for his wife, he noted. Getting the first vaccine and then the second three weeks later strengthens the immune system.
“When we as doctors get the vaccines, it reassures our patients who may not understand how the virus works and how the vaccine works,” he said.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Dr. Aseem Shukla, a pediatric urologist and surgeon is still awaiting his vaccine which he expects in the near future. The vaccine has already arrived and is being triaged starting from those most vulnerable such as Intensive Care Unit and other critical care staff, nurses doing the testing outside the hospital, anesthesiologists, ENT surgeons in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, trauma surgery, some of which Dr. Shukla also conducted, and down the line.
“There is a palpable excitement here. Of course, everyone wants the vaccine. I will probably get it by January. There is a lot more hope now – hope that there is a vaccine and that everyone will get it at some point. There is no panic or anyone trying to jump the line,” Dr. Shukla observed.
Based in Florida, Dr. Bobby Varghese, president of Indian Nurses Association of South Florida, and vice-president-elect of National Association of Indian Nurses of America (NAINA), said he and other university health professionals will probably be receiving their vaccinations some time in the second or third phase, and have yet to be notified by the administration.
In Westwood, New Jersey, nurse Boby Thomas, president of the state chapter of NAINA, was probably the first nurse from the organization to get the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14.
As noted on the website of NAINA, “There are thousands of Asian Indian nurses in the US, who have been and continue to provide exceptional patient care for more than five decades.”
Nurse Boby Thomas has been a critical care nurse for the last 20 years, “and I have not seen a deadly disease such as this,” he told News India Times.
“It felt great getting the vaccine. Seems like we are getting closer to normalcy,” Nurse Boby Thomas said. Working in an Intensive Care Unit and witnessing so many deaths, it felt very emotional to get the vaccine, he said.
“I have seen first-hand what this disease does. And for months, in the back of my head was the worry of what could happen to those I came into contact with. Until you have it, you have no idea what this virus can do.”