Vaccinated abroad, Kashmiri medico gets severe COVID-19

A native doctor returned Kashmir in the second week of January from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a week after he had received the second shot (booster) of COVID-19 vaccine. Two weeks after his arrival, he developed fever, cough and breathlessness, necessitating an emergency visit to the hospital. Soon, he was admitted at the Chest Diseases Hospital here and put on oxygen support.

When doctors suspected COVID-19, his family almost laughed it off given that he had been vaccinated abroad.

However, an RT-PCR confirmed that the doctor was infected with SARS-CoV2.

Radiological imaging showed that he had developed severe pneumonia.

The next few days were a ‘nightmare’ for the family given his serious condition and dropping oxygen saturation.

The doctor was discharged this week, after his repeat sample tested negative.

However, the case has not ended for the doctors who are struggling to find answers to the questions that this patient has given rise to.

For the patient (himself a doctor), it is a mystery how he could contract the infection.

“In UAE, it is mandatory for every doctor to get vaccinated and I did so as per the protocol,” he said. “The vaccine was from one of the most reputed manufacturers in the world.”

The booster shot was given 28 days later.

The patient had not done an antibody test to confirm adequate immune response to the vaccine. Initially, he suspected that he was one of the people who do not develop antibodies against SARS-CoV2 even after vaccination.

However, an antibody test at GMC Srinagar showed he had enough antibodies.

“May be the antibodies developed after I got infected with the virus. After all, I was sampled at least a week after I developed symptoms, the time adequate for immune response to build,” he told Greater Kashmir.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Head of the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at GMC Srinagar, Dr Naveed Nazir Shah said that the case was the first of its kind that they had come across in Kashmir.

He said his team was studying it and had sent his sample for genome sequencing to National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), New Delhi for ascertaining the strain of SARS-CoV2 that he was infected with.

“We won’t be able to comment much till we get this report,” he said.

However, it has been two weeks since the sample was sent outside J&K for a report on its genetic makeup and yet no report had been received.

Prof Parvaiz A Koul, influenza expert and head of the internal and pulmonary medicine at SKIMS Soura told Greater Kashmir that the case could possibly be explained by the vaccine efficacy data.

“No vaccine has 100 percent efficacy. There always is a percentage of people who do not develop the desired immune response,” he said. “More studies need to be conducted before drawing any conclusion about the vaccination of the patient and his illness.”

Meanwhile, the patient expressed concern and dismay at such delays in reporting genome sequence of his sample.

“What is the point of the test if it is delayed this long. An early report could help in averting a crisis,” he said.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, incharge of contact tracing and sampling at COVID-19 control room, Dr Talat Jabeen the report was expected in the coming week.

“Perhaps SKIMS Soura, that is the nodal point for sending samples to NCDC, did not communicate the urgency of this matter to the testing lab and that caused the delay,” she said.

Dr Jabeen said nearly 250 samples had been sent for genome sequencing to New Delhi and none showed any mutation in the circulating COVID-19 virus in Kashmir division.

“Hopefully, this sample will also be negative for gene mutation,” she said.

Both Prof Koul and Dr Shah said that the sickness of the doctor in question even after vaccination underlined the importance of following protocols for prevention of influenza illnesses.

“Mask, social distance and hand wash can’t be abandoned in any case,” he said.