Social Vaccination: Still the way forward

By Dr. Neeraj Nischal Associate Professor, Department of Medicine , AIIMS & Dr. Sujay Halkur Shankar,Department of Medicine, AIIMS

The festive season is here, and so is winter. With all of us stranded at home for most of the year, the desire for celebration and social gathering is climbing. We are all eagerly waiting for the distribution of COVID vaccines, so we may gain immunity and go about our lives as in the pre-COVID era. Vaccine development and immunization is, however, time-consuming. Thus, while the scientific community works on a biologic solution, we must continue to take part in the practice of the ‘social vaccine’. The COVID-19 social vaccine includes social distancing, hand hygiene, face masks, and isolation. Since the discovery of the mode of spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, these measures have been widely popularized. Over the last 9 months, COVID fatigue has set in in all of us, and there has been a laxity in the practice of the laid down COVID appropriate behavior. Without reinforcement, this will only worsen.

We are currently in the unlock process after a long lockdown phase. At this time, the number of cases in certain parts of India are again on the rise. The disease is just as, if not more rampant in its spread and has not heeded to our efforts of lockdown. Social vaccination is still the only way to safeguard ourselves. The virus will enter our homes if we falter and permit it. It is up to us to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy.

To elaborate the measures yet again, social distancing includes a physical distancing of individuals by at least 6 feet. We do not have to be socially or emotionally distant in these times, just physically distant. We have been blessed with technology to bring the world closer. Utilization of these online platforms will help us socialize when we have to practice social distancing. Washing your hands with soap and water (or alcohol hand rubs) for at least 20 seconds, frequently, will keep you from spreading the virus by touch. Let us strengthen the Indian tradition of ‘Namaste’ and say no to handshakes. Face masks will not only protect you from COVID, but other winter viruses like the common cold and influenza. Most importantly, remember to be socially vigilant and isolate yourself if you are symptomatic.

A vaccine is not a magic bullet to end the pandemic. The introduction, logistics, and effects of vaccination is a drawn-out process. Even with a sound biological vaccine, social vaccination is still the most important aspect of disease prevention. The two should go hand-in-hand to control the disease, and are not mutually exclusive. Both the above would need staggering community participation, with the social vaccine requiring full and conscious effort of the entire population, without which it is bound to fail. The fate of the pandemic rests in the hands of each and every one of us. Here’s to celebrating the festive season the way it was meant to be; with lamps and good will.

The writer is Dr. Neeraj Nischal, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine , AIIMS and Dr. Sujay Halkur Shankar,Department of Medicine, AIIMS

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