While some expressed doubts on the ‘record’, others said that the incident points to shortage of staff in hospitals.

Health minister Veena George felicitating the nurse Health minister Veena George felicitating the nurse (Image credit: FB / Veena George)
news Controversy Wednesday, September 01, 2021 - 16:24

A recent Facebook post by Kerala’s Health Minister Veena George applauding a nurse on duty in a COVID-19 vaccination centre who made news by vaccinating 893 people in seven and half hours has grabbed a lot of attention. While many applauded the minister who directly visited the nurse to convey her wishes, scores of social media users have criticised the minister. While some expressed doubts on the ‘record’, others said that the incident points to shortage of staff in hospitals. It was on August 15, Sunday, that Pushpalatha, a Public Health Nurse at the Government District Hospital at Alappuzha’s Chengannur, administered the COVID-19 vaccine to 893 people in between her duty hours from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. On August 30, Health Minister Veena George visited the hospital to appreciate the nurse.

“It is from news reports that I learned about Pushpalatha, Junior Public Health Nurse in Chengannur district hospital, who administered vaccines to 893 people in seven and a half hours. I wished to meet her the very next day,” the minister wrote. She also added that it was a busy day at the hospital for the nurse and that there was good team work. The minister also mentioned the names of members of the team, congratulating them as well.

While some social media users criticised the move, alleging that it was a planned incident to get attention, Pushpalatha, in her interview to Manorama News, said that it was unexpected that so many people would come for vaccination on a Sunday. “We were expecting less people since it was a Sunday, but a group of migrant workers came for vaccination. We did not want to make anyone leave without getting vaccinated,” she said.

However, many social media users have raised bigger concerns. Pointing out how overworked healthcare workers are, a social media user commented, “Stop glorifying the overwork of most public health nurses. As a minister you should take prompt action to appoint more staff, instead of burdening them. Vaccinating 800+ by a single staff member shows how pathetic the staff strength of your department is."

Another user expressed doubts about the time said to be taken for the vaccination. “This reveals the mismanagement of the Health Department. Seven and a half hours is 450 minutes. It means for one person out of the 893 people in total, time taken for vaccination is 30 seconds. How is this possible? One has to take the syringe, load it, disinfect the injection spot, and inject a person. In between this, the nurse has to get her break. How is it possible?” asked the user.

Speaking to TNM, a Kerala nurse who presently works abroad, said it is possible to administer a vaccine within 30 seconds for a person if the nurse has help. "However, what is problematic here is the workload the nurse has had," she said.

Reacting on the issue, Dr Sulphi Noohu, President elect of the Indian Medical Association, said the issue is more systemic.

"The minister might have applauded the nurse out of goodwill. We cannot say it's a mistake. But the problem is more systemic. For example, for a routine consultation of a patient, the World Health Organisation says it should take 15-20 minutes if it is a long case, and five minutes for a small case. However, this is not followed in practice in the government sector and in a section of private hospitals. This is because there is an overload of patients and shortage of staff. Same is the case in the present issue. It is a systemic change we want," explains Dr Sulphi, adding, "What was done was dangerous and we cannot appreciate it."

Immunologist Dr Padmanabha Shenoy, meanwhile, pointed out there are chances of error when hundreds of patients are vaccinated by a single staff member continuously. There have been multiple instances in Kerala in the past months where health workers have wrongly administered both the doses of COVID-19 vaccine to people.

Read: Another Kerala woman gets 2 Covishield doses same day, family alleges negligence

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