Should you travel to get the Covid-19 vaccine out-of-turn? Here’s what Dr Sanjay Wagle says

Is it worth the risk travelling to get the Covid-19 vaccine? How risky is it? Dr Sanjay Wagle answers your questions

Several countries across the world have begun Covid-19 vaccination drives beginning with front-line healthcare workers and senior citizens in the first phase. In India, the government has announced that the vaccination drive will begin on January 16. The two vaccine manufacturers – BharatBiotech and the Serum Institute of India – have already begun transportation of the vaccine vials to different parts of the country.

As the vaccination drive is scheduled to be rolled out in phases, there has been talk of vaccine tourism – wherein people are hoping to travel abroad to get the vaccine out-of-turn. Clarifying its stand, Pfizer – one of the key manufacturers of the Covid-19 vaccine outside India – said it would not supply private medical providers with the vaccine and that it would adhere to government recommendations. “I can say clearly and confidently that there are no plans to supply the private sector for the foreseeable future – no chance at all,” Ben Osborn, Pfizer UK country manager told the Financial Times last month.

But should there be an opportunity, should one make the trip? Indian Express Group’s Executive Director Anant Goenka spoke to Dr Sanjay Wagle of Bombay Hospital and Medical Research Centre to find out.

Anant Goenka: People who are taking or opting to take the vaccine want to know, how long will the vaccine last?

Dr Wagle: It is difficult to say, as we really do not know the exact amount of time (the effect) of a Covid-19 vaccine would last for. We expect that it should last for a year or more, but with the vaccine development still undergoing, we can’t be sure. Take Pfizer for example, it has been on trials only for the last five to six months.

Just like a flu shot, we are going to need a Covid-19 vaccine on a regular basis. That’s what my guess is, but it should definitely last for a year.

Anant Goenka: Would you recommend people who have been infected with Covid-19 to take the vaccine?

Dr Wagle: Yes, currently the recommendation is that anybody, even those infected with the virus in the past should get vaccinated. However, there should be a gap of at least three months between the onset of the infection and the vaccine shot. There have been documented instances of re-infections, so everybody, irrespective of whether or not they had Covid-19, should receive a vaccine.

Anant Goenka: We are hearing of ‘vaccine tourism,’where people travel abroad to get vaccine shots. Would you advise your patients to travel to get vaccine shots?

Dr Wagle: I would not advise anybody to travel abroad to get a vaccine. While travelling, whatever precautions you take, you still are vulnerable to catch the infection during flights. Only if you are extremely certain, you should travel that too with precautions. Quarantine yourself for a period of 7 to 10 days, get a negative test through by undergoing an RT PCR test. Still, 25 per cent of the time RT-PCR tests can show false negatives, by the time you complete your quarantine period you can either develop symptoms or test positive.

You should be absolutely certain that you are not getting vaccinated at the time when you are actually infected with the virus. We don’t know what happens when both things happen simultaneously.

Anant Goenka: Why is it more risky when getting vaccinated involves travel?

Dr Wagle: There is a greater chance of catching the coronavirus while traveling. Since most vaccines will be administered in two dosages — Moderna shots being 20 days apart and Pfizer having a gap of 21 days — this would mean you are travelling for a long period of time, and probably back and forth.

Anant Goenka: So flying isn’t as safe, as we are all making it to be?

Dr Wagle: There was an instance on an Emirates flight where all passengers tested negative through an RT-PCR at the time of boarding the flight. About seven passengers turned out to be positive by the time the flight landed. All of them were of the same genome, meaning the virus was transmitted during the flight. This is despite all the precautions, we need to understand that SARS-CoV-2 is an extremely infectious virus.

Everything has some degree of risk, you need to be extra careful, I mean how many people will ensure they have got their masks on at all times during the travel?

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