My name is Manjunath Ningappa Pujari (41) and I am a COVID-19 vaccine trial candidate. A resident of Belgaum, Karnataka. I am referred to as a nocturnal auto ambulance man and work three jobs each day — an office assistant in the morning, a part-time job in the evening, followed by ferrying patients to and from different hospitals at night.
Like so many others, my father passed away all alone due to this global health crisis. He was an otherwise healthy man that stayed with me. Life, as I knew it changed, and I vowed to help in whatever way I could to beat the pandemic.
True to form, when a newspaper advertisement calling for volunteers for the COVID-19 vaccine trial appeared, I jumped at it and went to enrol myself. The thought that I could in some small way help in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic situation under control brought me immense solace.
Human trials at Jeevan Rekha Hospital
The advertisement, put out by Bharat Biotech, mentioned that those who wish to be a part of the trial could come to the hospital for a preliminary health check-up. On the basis of that, they would choose people who could be part of the trail. This advertisement appeared in the month of August 2020. All those who signed up for this were allotted a day on which we were to assemble at the hospital and give our blood, urine, and nasal swab for a check before being selected for the trial process.
The first time I was rejected because my blood sugar levels were high. I did not let that deter me. I cut down my food intake and started regular walks. I was sure that the next time a call for volunteers was made, I would make the cut.
Many people who know me said that it was good I did not make it in the first phase, they also said I should consider this a sign and not go back for the second phase. But I was very sure of what I was getting into. So many people are losing their loved ones to COVID-19.
A shot at the COVID-19 vaccine
In the second call for volunteers, I went back, and this time I made the cut. All my parameters were good and the first vaccine injection was administered on 9 September 2020. I did not feel any pain, even as the needle was jabbed into my forearm. Once done, we were taken to a room where I stayed for half an hour for observation. We were all given a set of instructions to follow and asked to go about our life in as normal a manner as possible. I was also asked not to donate blood for the next six months. After the first dose I felt extremely hungry for the first day alone, however, on day two I felt better and was back to being normal.
We were also warned that if we showcased any sort of symptoms, which included itching, swelling, or any other strange sensation to the body, we were to get back to the same hospital and contact the doctors who had administered the injection. We were also told not to contact any other doctor during the time period we were under the vaccine trial.
I did not experience any itching or swelling after the first dose was administered. I felt fine and was also asked to continue living normally. There were follow up calls made by the doctors every week, who enquired about our health, or if we experienced anything different. At every step, we were assured of the doctor’s continuous support.
300 volunteers, one prayer
The second dose, administered on 6 October, was even easier on me and I did not even feel hungry like I did with the first dose. After the injection, we would receive a follow-up call every week where our parameters were checked. In total, there are four follow-ups and each time our blood is drawn to check for the antibodies. While the individual results are not shared with us, we have been told that as a group we are doing well and that we have developed antibodies to the SARS-CoV 2 virus.
We are a group of 300 people from my village who have signed up for this voluntary vaccine trial. The last follow up is scheduled to take place in February 2021. Once we complete the trial process we will also be given Rs 6000 for being a part of this process.
My only prayer is that we find the vaccine to this virus, and prevent future deaths, and get our lives back to normal.
My family, my strength
I am often asked where I derive my strength from, and the answer lies in my family. They are the ones who encourage me. Infact, if there is a third phase of the vaccine trial, I have asked my wife to be a part of it. This is our way of giving back to society. If our thoughts are good, then only good will happen to us – I operate on this philosophy.
This is my way of contributing, and if it works, I will take great pride in the fact that I was once a part of the vaccine trials for COVID-19.
– Manjunath Ningappa Pujari, As Told To Vidya Raja