Safety, and the importance of effective communication, comes naturally for Amit Singh, a veteran pilot. Also an aviation safety expert, Singh is an avid blogger, who investigates aircraft incidents and accidents, including the Kozhikode air crash in August last year.
That is why when an opportunity came to volunteer for the phase three trial of a COVID-19 vaccine, Singh made the most of it. Based in Bahrain, Singh had in September last year taken part in the third phase trial of Sinopharm, the vaccine from China.
"It was volunteering for a good cause, and is like part of the other things I do around safety. For something that has impacted the globe, this was my way of contributing," says Singh, who is also a Fellow of London's Royal Aeronautical Society.
Bahrain, like other countries in the Middle East, had approved the use of the Chinese vaccine after third phase trial on over 40,000 participants. Singh was one of them.
"It is also good for overall safety, to have antibodies, rather than have nothing. And even though it was a trial, I didn't expect things to go bizarre," says Singh, who runs NGO Safety Matters in India. He was duly informed about the process and the possible side-effects, and was strictly monitored.
"I was told I may feel fatigued. But I didn't feel a thing," says Singh. Pilots are not allowed to fly for 48 hours after they get a jab. The process is repeated after the second dose. "There were many swabs taken and blood tests conducted. All parameters were tracked," he says.
Like in any trial, Singh wasn't told if he was given the vaccine or the placebo. But the fact that he didn't get the rudimentary call at the end of the trial - which is done if one hasn't developed antibodies after a shot - Singh understood he has got the vaccine. Once the vaccination drive began, his family too got the doses.
Was the family worried about the adverse reaction incidents related to vaccines across the world, including in India?
"Just like a crash in a million flights doesn't stop anyone from flying, one adverse reaction shouldn't hold anyone back from taking COVID-19 vaccines, says Singh.
In India, however, the vaccination drive has seen many health professionals backing out, with many citing reservations on Covaxin, the vaccine that was approved without completing third phase trial. Some of the volunteers who were part of an ongoing trial alleged they weren't duly informed about the vaccine.
"If the communication is correct and people are well-informed, then they will take better choices," says Singh. Just like clear communication is crucial for a pilot to take sound decisions while in the cockpit and having the controls of an aircraft.
Lack of proper communication may have been one of the reasons that led to the crash of the Air India Express flight in Kozhikode in August 2020, killing 21 people.
"It is also a cultural thing. In India, we don't read the fine print before signing a contract. But in countries such as Singapore and Bahrain, they make sure that one reads and understands everything before signing," says Amit.