To save his family members from contracting the Covid-19 infection, Dr Gautam Bhansali, a consultant physician at Bombay Hospital, avoided going near them for nine months since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. It was only in January the next year that he hugged his family warmly after getting the first dose of Covishield against the infection.
Despite wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) round-the-clock, several physicians around him contracted Covid-19 on the line of duty. He would get frantic calls from his children and wife daily asking about his health. So, when in January 2021 the Centre initiated the first phase of mass immunisation programme for Covid-19, his family heaved a sigh of relief.
“Earlier, the PPE was our only shield against the virus while treating patients in ICUs. But vaccine gave us a hope that our immunity is stronger than before to fight against the virus,” said Dr Bhansali who was the first beneficiary to get the jab at BKC jumbo centre where Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray inaugurated the vaccination drive in Maharashtra with much fanfare.
Like other healthcare workers, Dr Bhansali presumed that the pandemic would be over soon. That was a while ago, but he is still hopeful. “It was because of the vaccine that the infection rate among the healthcare workers dropped drastically in the second wave. I am still alive and able to treat Covid-19 patients daily because of the vaccine,” said Dr Bhansali who is also the in-charge for Covid-19 beds in Mumbai.
He also started a helpline number with a group of doctors for the public where they would receive 10-15 calls daily about vaccination. Often, he would cite his example encouraging people to get the jab.
Considering the vaccine hesitancy in slums, he soon became an ambassador to promote vaccination in slum populations where there was hesitancy to take the shots. “With so much misinformation going on social media that vaccines can cause infertility and other health complications, many shied away from taking the jab. So, we went door-to-door to counsel the citizens,” he said.
In October, 2021, Dr Bhansali held a vaccination camp in Dharavi, the biggest slum in India, which was attended by Bollywood celebrity Sonu Sood. “In Mumbai, all listen to celebrities, so we used the trick to sensitise Dharavi slum dwellers,” he added.
He raised Rs 70 lakh through his NGO Golden Hour Foundation for the vaccination of slum dwellers in Mumbai. The NGO, later, also roped in Ajanta Pharma, World Trade Centre and others and raised Rs 3-4 crore as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for the initiative.